Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Runaways - Queens of Noise

OK, I know The Runaways are a terrible joke foisted upon us by the evil Kim Fowley in order for Kim to make money and be famous. I really don't care. I never did care. I just thought they were cool. They're one of those bands that I tried to follow when I was a kid, but you couldn't just go get their albums. It's not like every record store just had them. They didn't get any airplay, when they came to town they played small places like The Agora, which meant 18 and over, and I wasn't old enough to drive so I couldn't even find a record store that had their records. So I found this at a record show many years later. I used to have the cd, but I got rid of it (and the first one) to get myself to put more effort into having them on vinyl. I found a really nice copy with just a couple of pops in Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin last weekend at a record show, so I'm pretty damned happy.

When The Runaways came out they were just a few years older than me. They looked like girls I knew (for the most part - Cherie dressed a little less than girls I knew), and they played loud Rock N Roll with big guitars and songs about partying and doing things you weren't supposed to do. I still love those things. I generally do what I'm supposed to, but at this point it's because that's what I want to do, not what someone else expects me to do. So I still love the attitude on this record.

I really like that Joan Jett did so many of the vocals. I like Cherie's voice, but Joan really has a great voice for this kind of music. I've always felt that I Love Playin' With Fire was their best song, and I still think it holds up as a great song on its own. I've never seen Joan Jett live, but I hope she still plays this. Lita Ford adds a nice crunch and even though it's a little rough around the edges, I just can't get enough of it.

Speaking of Lita Ford, I like how the album closes, with Johnny Guitar and just Lita blasting away on her own for a minute or two. No one would mistake her for Jeff Beck, but I think it's a pretty memorable solo and it's obvious that the girl had talent. Maybe not the skills yet, but she definitely had talent. I never cared for her solo career, but I'm really glad she made it big on her own because she deserved it. They all deserved it. They got zero respect because of Kim Fowley, but they also got all their attention because of Kim Fowley (at least at the beginning).

I mean, in 1977 Fleetwood Mac's Rumours was definitely the 800 lb. gorilla of the charts, but as much as I still like it (really), it's pretty tame. Especially compared to the other side of 1977's coin, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. I've already said that changed everything for me, and it did. But somewhere between those two massively influential albums, this little record came out. The initial shock factor was gone, and they needed to come up with the songs to back up their look, and I think they did. Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin is kind of a classic Runaways song, and Take It Or Leave It is pretty groundbreaking in that Joan's lyrics about a one night stand aren't like most women of the era would sing. She's the one laying down the law about the whole thing just being a one nighter for her, instead of the usual lament for a guy using a poor girl that was pretty much the accepted form in the 70's. I mean, was Joan loose or something?

But I think that's the whole point of The Runaways. They didn't want to be one of the boys, or treated like the boys. They wanted to be girls (young women, I suppose), and they just wanted to be treated with respect. They mostly got treated like crap, but I'm glad that so many of them managed to make successful careers, often in music. I think that The Runaways are a pretty strong common thread between The Bangles, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Lita Ford. Their success outside of The Runaways was massive, because they had talent and vision. It's a shame so few people had the vision to see the talent when it was so young and raw. Bravo ladies, what a kick ass album you left us!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Leon Russell - Carney

I think this is one of those albums everyone should own. I'm sure these days a lot of people have only heard George Benson's version of This Masquerade, but Leon Russell wrote it, and he released it on this album a few years before George did. If you have read a few of my posts so far, you may be wondering, "What the hell is he talking about This Masquerade for?" and I'd say that's a legitimate question. It doesn't have screaming guitars, an extra bucket of fuzz, and it's certainly not a fun song. That's like the three things I kind of look for and this song has absolutely none of the above.

Which I'd like to say shows that I have wide and varied tastes, but I really don't. I just like how how utterly hopeless this song seems to be. I mean, I don't like it, but Leon certainly leaves it all on the table here. It just seems like when he finished singing it he knew the next thing he was doing was going home and ending a relationship that seemed like it was good most of the time. Maybe that's why it takes almost a minute and a half to really get started, but once it does it's just about the saddest song of all the sad songs. Mine is a used copy (I believe it's the second pressing, with yellow labels for you nerds keeping score) and it took awhile to find a cover that looks suitably used for my blog post. My cover is a little nicer, but I wouldn't trade my copy for the world because I like the clicks and pops on this song. They just seem to fit and make the whole thing seem so much more hopeless.

The whole record isn't a total downer. In fact, it starts off with Tightrope, which has always seemed to me to be the kind of song that's kind of a relationship song, but there's more Leon in the song than his partner, so it doesn't seem so serious. Maybe it's the weird, bouncy piano, but nothing seems fatalistic here. It kind of seems like the kind of thing Tom Waits would be able to do well. Keeping things a little lighter is Roller Derby, about the Queen of the Roller Derby. I love Roller Derby. I think it's one of the coolest things ever, and you can't say anything bad about it. Maybe you can say you don't know how they score, but I do, and it's certainly less complicated than baseball. And singing about Roller Derby in 1972, when I was 11, just means that you were tapped into my Saturday morning world, and how could I not "get" this song?

I kind of worried a bit when I put this on last night to listen to it for this article and side one started off with ocean noises, but Leon gets right to the songs and then kind of gets to the weird for the rest of the ride. That's a good description for this album. It's weird. Leon looks weird on the cover, the Rolls Royce pulling the little pull behind trailer on the back is weird and the recurring carnival organs are weird. I like it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Slickee Boys - Uh Oh...No Breaks!

OK, so one look at this and you can tell The Slickee Boys are a deadly serious band. You know how serious they are because of song titles like The Brain That Refused to Die and Jailbait Janet. You know Bob Dylan wishes he had come up with a line like, Jailbait Janet, she's the best girl on the planet. It's too bad for Bob, people may have been able to get behind him if he had. Well, maybe not, but I'll be damned if The Slickee Boys aren't at least a hell of a lot of fun!

I found this at Music Saves, probably last year or early this year. I knew that these guys were an 80's band, and with the hilarious song titles and their sort of mid 80's Rockabilly-ish garb, I figured this had to be a winner. I was so right, too. Almost my whole life I've just bought albums because they looked cool to me, and the Jr. High comic book feel of this just appealed to me. I figured it had to have at the bare minimum a great sense of humor behind it, and it really does. If I had had cable back in the early 80's I'd have probably seen a Slickee Boys video, but I didn't, so I had to kind of go by memory of old college radio shows. I was sure I'd heard them and then when I put this on and the big riff from Disconnected kicked in, I remembered right away.

Man, there used to be some really great college radio shows in Cleveland. I bet Wainstead All Night played this once in awhile. You never knew what you would hear him play. Police blotters, hardcore punk, Zappa, goofy shit. Just the kind of place for a band like The Slickee Boys to fit in. I'm gonna go listen to Dream Lovers again. Did you know dream lovers live in a dream? They do. Just ask The Slickee Boys.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Who - Quadrophenia

I have an internet friend (whom I've met in person) that will post "Quadrophenia blows doors!" on message boards and other such places every now and then. I suppose you can take it any way you like, but I'm pretty sure he means it kicks ass and blows the doors off the house when you do it right. I always used to pick it up at the record store, and I never bought it because I had heard it at an older friend's house, and reading the track listing in the store always makes it look like this could easily be a single record.

I suppose that line of thinking isn't too far off, but awhile back I found a really nice copy, but not with the booklet, it's a later MCA copy with blue rainbow labels, but it's a gatefold cover. The records are nice and shiny and flat and if I recall correctly it was less than five bucks. That's a hell of a deal, if you ask me.

I always thought it was kind of funny that when Jimmy goes to the concert in the album, he hears The Who playing The Kids Are Alright, which to my ears is better than anything on this album. But I'm not going to go so far as to say this album isn't really good, because it is a really good album. I just have to be in the mood for it, because there are a few things I can find irritating about it. The first thing is that this is one of those double albums where one record is sides one and four, and the other record is sided two and three. I've had a turntable that only plays one record at a time since I was in high school, so this kind of layout means I have to get both records out of their sleeves twice to listen to the whole thing. It just bugs me.

The contents of the records is generally awesome, but after the first listen or two, I really don't need the ocean sounds, and Love, Reign O'er Me tends to show up in little snippets too often for me. I also tend to think that the whole Rock Opera thing adds some cachet that's supposed to make me feel like I'm listening to something that's much more as a whole entity than it is when I'm listening to the individual parts of it. Pete Townshend is a true legend in the land of Rock N' Roll, deservedly so, but Pete's not one of his generation's Great Thinkers. Sometimes, when he's working on his Great Thoughts, I squirm a little. The story behind the Opera here could literally be told in a single song.

But if you discount all that (Pete's not the one that said he was a genius, it was Rock critics that said it), and just listen to the music, it really works a lot more than it doesn't. The record starts off with ocean noises and a brief look at the music that's to come (no great shakes to me), but then The Real Me fires up, and Pete just has that tone, and John Entwistle and Keith Moon just have that groove and you know there's something special even before Roger Daltrey almost steals the whole show. The song starts strong, and just builds a momentum that helps Cut My Hair and The Punk and the Godfather be better than they'd be on a side without The Real Me.

But then I have to put my record away and get out my other one so I can listen to side two. And side two is mostly disappointing. It goes a long time before it gets good, and it never really gets great. At least for side three I can just flip the record over. And side three is kicked off by 5.15, which is the best song on the album, but then at the end there's more ocean noises and Sea and Sand starts off promising but kind of bums out the high of 5.15. Drowned saves the day, though. It's everything The Who does right, and maybe that no one else ever really even seems to have figured out. You hear people saying a band "did a Stones song," or "rewrote a Beatles song," and even "had the garage feel of early Kinks," but no one seems to quite capture The Who at their best.

Side four is just epic, though. I wouldn't change a thing. It's huge in its approach and in its sound. It touches a little too much on Love Reign O'er Me, but we also finally hear that song as a whole, and it's one of the absolute best songs to ever close an album out with. Dr. Jimmy has always been one of my favorite Roger Daltrey performances, and that's saying something.

Could it be a single album? Probably. But it's fun to listen to the whole thing once in awhile. Side four may be the best side of music The Who ever made, so I think it's probably the kind of record everyone should own. I'm glad I grabbed it. It really does blow doors.