Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Damn the Torpedoes

I'm not a huge Tom Petty fan, but this is a hell of an album. You never had to buy it back in 79 when it came out, because they literally played every song on it, all the time, for a year. That says a lot. I know, some of you are saying, "They played all of Frampton Comes Alive, too" but that's different just cuz I says so. Damn the Torpedoes is the record that fully established Petty as a Big Star in a Big Way. It may seem like he was all over the place in the late 70's in retrospect, but his first album had a couple of pretty popular AOR songs on it, and then You're Gonna Get It! had a completely forgettable first side, but a second side that was really something. On Damn the Torpedoes it all gelled together into a complete album that just grabbed the whole country's attention and didn't let go.

They played this on all the AOR stations (like WMMS and WWWM here in Cleveland), and they also played at least four songs on the Top 40 stations. Which kind of took Tom "away" from his teenage fan base and spread him out to everyone, but songs like Century City, Shadow of a Doubt and Louisiana Rain were so good that even the over saturation of the hits on this record could still get it played at parties with no complaints.

I can still remember my friend singing Here Comes My Girl, and I swear, he always cranked it way up and just belted out the line "I can tell the whole wide world, shove it!"

Man were we rebellious. But I know I felt the same way he did back then, though I have to admit I always liked Even the Losers the best. Just the opening lines made me a fan, and while I said I'm not a huge fan, that song is so good that I'll always give Tom the benefit of the doubt and see what he's up to. He's never grabbed my attention like he did with this album, but it's just so good that maybe I just can't get past some of his filler like I used to be able to.

I know I also said you didn't have to buy this one, and I meant it. If you want to hear Century City these days though, you'll probably need to get a copy. The used record stores always have a copy or two, but finding one that isn't partied out is the hard part. I think I found mine in a rummage sale for pocket change, and I may have got one from the kid that didn't like Tom Petty in 1979. So I appreciate that kid never playing this so I can enjoy it now!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Suzi Quatro

This album kills. It really does. For some reason, quite possibly because when I was a lot younger my biggest rock n' roll musical guides seemed to be older sisters of friends, I have a pretty good selection of records by and/or featuring women. Suzi is one of my favorites from way back when I was just a little kid. I mean Masonic Summer Camp, 12 and 13 year olds at their first dances kind of kid. That was a good summer! I'm pretty sure 48 Crash and Fancy's Wild Thing were my idea of the greatest things ever recorded back then. I had this album at some point in my youth, but it disappeared.

But the great thing about flea markets is that sometimes you can find a guy selling a pristine copy of Suzi's first album for around thirty cents. That was a few years back these days, but it was a pretty good day, too. I forgot how much my mom disliked the cover of this one. Look at that dude drinking a beer with his hand in his pants! What a reprobate! The other two guys looked obviously high and that girl couldn't be anything but trouble. I still think it's a great cover, and I even like that it's textured. It was probably a pretty expensive cover for Bell Records.

The music is all slashing guitars and sex. I'm pretty sure I hardly played this one when my parents were around. I think All Shook Up was okay, because it got some airplay, I think. So my parents could live with that because they had heard it. Primitive Love was another story. I knew that was a non starter in the living room the minute I heard it. I bet this is one of the first albums that lit a fire in me to get a stereo for my room.

I was pretty surprised to see that this was like a top 150 album in the US. I really thought 48 Crash and All Shook Up got a lot of airplay. Maybe they did around Cleveland and just not as much in other places, but I can remember turning 48 Crash up every time I heard it on the radio (I'll come clean - I still do). I thought All Shook Up was a top 10 kind of hit, because I heard that one all the time. But the Internets don't seem to back up my memory on those.

My favorite songs are still Skin Tight Skin and Can the Can. Skin Tight Skin is just one of the great late night/early morning songs. I remember playing it really quietly before going out to do my paper route so I'd have it in my head. Back then portable music wasn't nearly what it is today. You pretty much had to play what you wanted right before you left so it would stick in your head real good. I could get that one stuck in there real good. Can the Can was another one that I could get stuck in my head, but it's kind of similar to 48 Crash so I'd get them mixed up.

So I suppose this one sounds like a nostalgia trip for me, but it's really not. I guess it's just the kind of simple, straight to the point rock that still really appeals to me. I liked that bit in The Runaways movie where the vampire girl that plays Joan Jett gushes about "Suzi Fuckin' Quatro!" and I think if anyone from 1974 deserves to be remembered for kicking ass and taking names, it's Suzi Quatro and her reprobate band. I could listen to Len Tuckey strangle his guitar on Shakin' All Over every day.

Iron City Houserockers - Love's So Tough

I've got a promo copy of this record. I would bet just about everyone outside of Pittsburgh has only ever seen a promo copy of this. I actually ran across it in a Half Price Books recently and they wanted $8.00 for it. No way! It's a decent enough late 70's blast of midwestern Rawk, it's not super collectible or anything. You can find them at record shows for two or three bucks all the time. I must have liked mine at the time, because it's a little noisy here and there, but I'm gonna stick with it.

The Houserocker with the biggest claim to fame is Joe Grushecky. He's still out there plugging away in Pittsburgh and I know a guy that still goes to see him. The drummer was Art Nardini, and I'm sure his brother was Norman, he of the Tigers. When push comes to shove, my being a Clevelander probably means I should like my local guys better than these guys, but that's just silly. I have more Iron City Houserockers albums than I do Michael Stanley Band albums, for good reason.

That good reason is that while these guys can be a little heavy handed and plodding, when they're good, they're a lean and tight Rock N' Roll band. The band was managed by Cleveland International, so that means Steve Popovich, and I have to say that I'm surprised how dense this record sounds. It's not like these guys were studio pro's, but Popovich always seemed to know what he was doing. So my bitch about this album is pretty much related to sound. These guys were obviously a bar band, and this record quite solidly reinforces that. The production has no subtlety whatsoever, and the piano and harmonica could have used a little more air around them so they could shine a little more.

But that may have been part of the style of that midwestern sound back then. If there's anything that's similar I'd think it's the Pub Rock scene of which I'm so fond of. The bands in both scenes are singing about things that really happen to real people and the biggest difference seems to be that the midwestern scene had this huge specter of Bruce Springsteen hanging over them. Fortunately, The Iron City Houserockers played up their guitars more than Springsteen did. If you like guitars, there's plenty of them on this album, and the production favors them over all else.

The songs hold up pretty well, even after all these years. Maybe it's because they weren't shooting for that arena sound (except maybe on Hideaway, which is still pretty good), and they generally kept the arrangements the same as they probably sounded at the bars around Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Youngstown four nights a week. I've really got to hand it to them on Turn It Up. It's a quintessential midwestern blues rocker, carrying all the heavy lyrical weight of turning up the rock n' roll and forgetting about your boss for awhile. It's also the best recorded song on the record.

I think it's funny that these days it's like this music never happened (sometimes). But it was there, and it was fun. A lot of people that listened to this kind of stuff liked Punk, but might just as easily be found at a blues festival the next weekend. It was a funny music scene around here then, and people seemed to pride themselves in being eclectic (though how eclectic are you really when you listen to guitar based rock n' roll?). It's too bad more people never got a chance to hear these guys, because their next album was terrific.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Rumour - Purity of Essence

I always liked Graham Parker, at least when he was first coming onto the scene in the late 70's and early 80's. The guy had a clever turn of phrase and attitude to spare, but he also had a real crackerjack band behind him, The Rumour. I had heard things about Brinsley Schwarz and I still haven't really checked out much of his career, but I found this awhile ago in a used record shop and the cover is just cheesy enough that I figured it had to be good. I wasn't too far off. This is a real nice record (with just the occasional click on a couple of tracks), and the cover doesn't give a lot to peruse while listening, but it does let you know who recorded the album and who played what, so it's helpful in a Rock Nerdy way, but just barely.

The opening track, Tula is a real keeper. Mid tempo rocker, with nice sounding guitars. I think that's pretty much coded in my DNA to like, so things get kicked off nicely for me. I like the reggae infused Writing in the Water, too. I really struggle with authentic reggae and get bored very quickly with it (I know, I'm a douche. I can live with it, you'll have to too). But there's a lot of music I seem to like reinterpretations of more than the original. What's nice about this is that it's done before it wears out it's welcome. C'mon, admit it - some of those reggae classics would be interminable at four minutes, and at eleven they seem like they've taken a day of your life. Three minutes is okay for anything.

I can never get enough of Randy Newman's Have You Seen My Baby? I think The Flamin' Groovies did it best, but The Rumour does a great job with it, too. Isn't the line about talking to strangers one of the best ever? I could maybe stand Newman more if I could get to those lines more easily in his music, but I always seem to need someone else singing it for me. side one wraps up with a real fun version of Rubber Band Man, and that's just a song I can't imagine anyone not liking.

Side two kind of gets a little lost with Depression and I Think it's Gonna Work Out Fine. The first is just a little depressing, and while I can try to empathize, I just wander off. The latter just never gets up and goes anywhere. So there's kind of a dead spot on side two here, but how many albums are perfect from top to bottom? Houston is a keeper, and it ends with the completely swell Name and Number, which has some nice, snarling vocals and a nice, fat guitar sound. It's definitely a nice, fat sounding track that came during a time when music was getting real lean and mean. I don't think Purity of Essence is anything you'll play everyday for a month after you get it, but it's definitely worth keeping and there's plenty of times when it will hit the mood just right. Besides, the band is spot on throughout, and even when the song doesn't have much going for it, the musicianship is just top notch.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Guess Who - The Best of the Guess Who

I'm not big on greatest hits types of records, but The Guess Who is the kind of band that's just perfect for these types of records. Some of their album cuts are atrocious, but their hit singles were fantastic, at a time when you had to be fantastic to get a hit record. In 1969 and 1970 they were a hit making machine, and almost every song on this album comes from those records. One of the best things about the album is that it just gets right into American Woman, because there's no way anyone in retrospect thinks it was cool for Burton Cummings to actually spell get the idea. If it were Utah Woman it wouldn't have been so bad, but who wants to listen to a spelling bee? But this record just cuts right into it.

And that always reminds me of a friend I used to have. He passed away a few years ago in a pretty sad and lonely death, but I don't think anyone was surprised with the amount of alcohol this guy needed just to get up in the morning. It's too bad because there was a time when this guy had it all. Anyway, we used to drive around in his car instead of going to work or school way back when, and this was one of his favorite tapes. He could listen to it three times a day, and once in awhile I'd actually let him. I think he played it every time they had a party during the time he was married, and I was actually kind of surprised they didn't play it at his funeral. I asked his sister about it and she said it was just a low key affair, but she couldn't believe I remembered how much he liked this record.

And luckily for me, it really brings back good memories of my friend. I can still hear him singing. "Unh!" in American Woman and totally acting like an asshole and laughing like a maniac during the end ofLaughing. Or shouting "I think I missed it!" in Hand Me Down World. He had his own lines for half of the songs, but he didn't mess it up all the time. Sometimes he'd just stay quiet and actually listen to this one, and that was cool because he obviously liked it so much. I don't know if I'd have ever really liked this album as much as I do know if he hadn't just played it so often. I always liked Bachman Turner Overdrive more, but then I was just a little younger and they were just a little heavier, and besides, Randy Bachman left these guys and he was my favorite thing about them, anyway.

The whole first side of this album as singles probably sold like fifteen million records. The second side gets a little bogged down by Bus Rider and Do You Miss Me Darlin' (which might not have even been a single so far as I know), but it's still got Share the Land on it, and that's a pretty monster hit, so there's still plenty of reasons to flip the record over. I think at the time Anne Murray was Canada's biggest musical export, so it was nice to see that there were some guys with guitars up there that could write a catchy song and not chase the kids away in droves. Even though it sounds like the end of the road for the band (to me) during Hang on to Your Life, at least it was a good 70's rocker of a song that didn't sound like it was trying too hard, but it gets kinda corny. I'll probably never upgrade this old record for a quieter pressing because the pops and clicks don't bother me and I think they remind me it's mine.