Suzi Quatro – Suzi…And Other Four Letter Words

Suzi Quatro’s music never got the recognition it deserved. That’s not to say she didn’t find success. I just think that through no fault of her own, she should have found a lot more.

Suzi found her biggest musical success in the UK and Europe which is kind of sad considering she grew up in Detroit.

Suzi started her rock and roll career in 1964. A career that seemed to go virtually nowhere until she moved to England in 1971. The success of her career from that point forward went on to inspire the careers of Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Debbie Harry, Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads), and Ann and Nancy Wilson (Heart). “Suzi…And Other Four Letter Words” was Suzi Quatro’s second most successful album in the US.

Before “Suzi…And Other Four Letter Words” came out, most people in the US only knew Suzie Quatro as Leather Tuscadero, the character she played in 7 episodes of the TV sitcom “Happy Days”. I hate to admit that I’m one of them. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t check out her back catalog afterward; more about that later.

Joe Jackson – Look Sharp

The story of Joe Jackson’s 1979 debut album is one to file under “If at first you don’t succeed”.

When record producer David Kershenbaum first heard the songs Joe Jackson was working on for what Jackson hoped would eventually be his first album, he liked what he heard so much, he immediately had Jackson signed to A&M records. To gain traction for “Look Sharp”, the first single from it, “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”, was released ahead of the album. It went nowhere, in the US or Britain. A second single, “Sunday Papers”, was released. Same thing. The third single, “One More Time” followed suit. Things weren’t looking too sharp for Joe Jackson. But finally, the album “Look Sharp” was released…and it went nowhere.

It made no sense. It was a great album with great songs bouncing between new wave and punk. What went wrong?

I’m not sure who made the final decision, but they did what was really the only thing that made sense at that point. They re-released the single “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”. It was a hit! “Sunday Papers” and “One More Time” soon took off as well. Radio stations even started playing songs from the album that weren’t released as singles. A short while later Joe Jackson had his first gold record in the US and Britain, just like they had planned all along.

And the moral of the story is never underestimate the power of “try, try again”.

The Stooges (The Detroit Edition)

The Stooges were a band ahead of their time. They were punk rock before there was punk rock. Their music had so much grit and attitude that most rock critics at the time just didn’t get it. But in 1969, Detroit got it. In 1969, Detroit was all about grit and attitude. And survival.

Detroit was trying to come back from the riots two years earlier that had devastated it and left it deeply scarred. The comeback wasn’t going as well as many hoped it would. The scars in the city ran deep. Rather than fluff it up or play it down, the Stooges wore those scars like a badge of honor. Just like Detroit had been forced to strip itself into a primal survival mode after the riots, the Stooges stripped rock and roll down to its basic primal core. Their debut album was music struggling to survive, barely accessible; played with a grit and attitude that was hard for almost anyone outside of Detroit to really get at the time.

Eventually, other cities around the world would start to bear similar wounds to those that scarred Detroit back in 1967. Many new bands started to focus on the same guttural survival instinct in their music that The Stooges had nearly a decade earlier. By that time, the critics had started to get it. They embraced the new sound and dubbed it “punk rock”. Nearly every punk rock band that has ever existed has cited The Stooges as a big influence.

The Detroit Edition of “The Stooges” has two versions of the album. The first is the original record, as it was released in 1969. The second has alternate versions of all the songs. Only eight thousand copies of The Detroit Edition of “The Stooges” were produced as part of a 2018 Record Store Day promotion.

Record Store Day is an annual event that started in the US in 2007 to promote local independent record stores. Typically held in April, it provides local record stores with exclusive limited edition releases. It has become so successful that it’s now held in several countries around the world.

Blue Öyster Cult – Tyranny And Mutation

One of the cool things about some early albums by bands that later hit it big is listening to them trying to find their sound. While there are elements of “Don’t Fear The Reaper”, “Godzilla”, and “Burning For You”, Blue Oyster Cult’s second album “Tyranny and Mutation” goes in directions that at times barely sound like the same band as their later big hits.

Blue Öyster Cult eventually became best known for their hard rock, pop tinged, progressive rock sound. But on their first couple albums, the songs were edgier and more aggressive. “Tyranny and Mutation” opens with the speed metal shredding on “The Red and the Black” and it never lets up from there.
This is BÖC sounding rougher around the edges, even occassionally infringing on punk and garage rock territory. Combined this with progressive rock and psychedelia and you end up with one of Blue Öyster Cult’s best records, yet one that is often overlooked in their catalog.

The Alarm – Declaration

The Alarm gained popularity in the ’80s around the same time as U2. Both bands had a distinctly different, yet similar sounds. The two bands also shared a common thread in their politically charged and passionately sung lyrics. Unfortunately, U2 became successful before The Alarm and the band from Wales became destined to stay in the Irish band’s shadow. Some critics even refered to The Alarm as U2 wannabes, which I felt was an unfair assessment.

Personally, I liked The Alarm’s music better than U2’s. It had a little more of a punk edge to it, similar to The Clash. I think their first full length album, “Declaration” was every bit as powerful as U2’s “War”. Sadly, they never attained the level of success they so undeniably deserved.

One of the performers that The Alarm looked up to and took inspiration from was Bob Dylan. His politically charged words have always been present in The Alarm’s songs. I had the pleasure of seeing The Alarm open for Dylan in 1988 at Meadowbrook Music Theater in Michigan. As you would expect, almost all the people there came to see Bob Dylan. The Alarm obviously knew this would be the case and made sure that everyone there would remember them that night as well. A couple of songs into their set, front man Mike Peters charged into the crowd to get them fired up. Everyone jumped to and stayed on their feet until The Alarm left the stage. Their performance that night remains in my memories as one of the most powerfully moving performances I have seen by any opening band. I wish I would have had a chance to see them headlining a show before they broke up in 1991.

Mike Peters reformed The Alarm in 2004, but without original members Dave Sharp, Eddie MacDonald, and Nigel Twist, it just wasn’t the same.

The Kickstand Band – Puppy Love

My sister-in-law is an artist. She teaches sculpture at Wayne State University in Detroit. There are cities in Michigan that have her sculptures on permanent display. She has done exhibitions at art galleries across the United States. I am very proud of her. I am also thankful to her for being responsible for my discovering The Kickstand Band – in a roundabout way.

A little over a year ago, my sister-in-law was doing an exhibit at the opening of the 333 Midland gallery in Highland Park, near Detroit (you should Google it, it is really cool). They had bands playing there. And while I do appreciate visual art, I am by my nature, drawn to music. And there were local bands there. One of the bands was The Kickstand Band. I loved their stage presence and more importantly, their sound. So I went up to meet them afterwards and support them by buying some of their music. I was astonished to find they had their debut album, “Puppy Love”, on CD and vinyl. Of course, I had to buy the vinyl record – it’s always my first choice.

Having just seen The Kickstand Band play live, I already knew their sound. DIY/indie pop and power chords with great boy/girl vocal harmonies. Listening more closely, once I had the record playing at home, I could also hear influences of doo-wop, surf music, punk, and of course, Motown – they are from Detroit after all.

And then there’s the album cover. As if to flaunt the DIY attitude, the cover of “Puppy Love” is a picture that would feel right at home on the “Awkward Family Photos” website (you should Google that too)

I can’t help but hope The Kickstand Band get a break somewhere down the line. They deserve it. Their music is a joy to listen to. It’s as unique as it is addicting. Not overly abrasive but still rebellious. I will be keeping eye and ear out for them.

The Clash – London Calling

When The Clash released their third album, “London Calling”, Did they abandon their punk rock roots or open the genre up to greater possibilities?

Punk rock started as a response to the more experimental and extravagant styles that had become commonplace with rock music in the late ’70s. When The Clash and other punk bands arose on the scene, they rebelled with rock music that was raw and stripped down to its very basic core.

Unlike The Clash’s first two albums, “London Calling” was anything but stripped down and basic. The Clash took influences from ska, reggae, R&B, rockabilly, lounge jazz and Celtic music, to create what many consider to be their best album. It surely is one that few will dispute was as groundbreaking as it was influential.

But the question remains: With “London Calling”, did The Clash abandon or expand the definition of punk rock?

It’s been at least a couple of decades since I have listened to “London Calling” in its entirety. I had the album a long time ago but got rid of it, along with a lot of other albums I now regret parting with. My intent was to replace my vinyl copy with one on compact disc. The problem was, that never happened. So, this year I asked Santa for it for Christmas, and guess what? Santa came through!

I don’t know what my answer would have been when I first listened to “London Calling” all those years ago. But listening to in its entirety now, for the first time in decades, the answer is perfectly clear and obvious to me.

With “London Calling” did The Clash abandon their punk rock roots or did they expand on the genre?

The answer is “yes.”

Pretenders

I first discovered The Pretenders around 1983. 

Well, not really. 

I had heard the song “Brass in Pocket” years before. It was all over MTV in 1980. I liked the song, but it didn’t impress me enough to run out and get the eponymous debut album by The Pretenders, but it was memorable enough for me to store it in my gray matter for later reference.

Jump forward three years. I’m in the Army, on temporary duty at Fort McCoy Wisconsin. Most of my fellow soldiers there are into Motley Cruë, Poison, Judas Priest, AC/DC and other hard rock and metal bands. All those bands had their moments, AC/DC more than the rest, but my personal taste was looking for something different; something more original. On a whim I picked up the debut album by The Pretenders. I didn’t know if I’d like it but I knew I wouldn’t hate it from what I heard from the one song I remembered. I just knew I wanted something that wasn’t the same old same old. I have to say, that was one of the best spur-of-the-moment choices I ever made musically. 

The Pretenders’ debut album was a lot more punk rock infused than what I had expected – quite a departure from “Brass in Pocket”, but you could still tell it was the same band. There was an attitude; and that attitude was Chrissie Hynde’s vocals. They reminded me of a hip, punk rock version of Karen Carpenter. James Honeyman Scott’s guitar was…absolutely unique is the only description that comes to mind. Simplistically punk, but totally improvisational. Martin Chambers drums varied between Power-punk and reggae rhythms. All of this was glued together by Pete Farndons’ guiding bass-lines that, like in any great rhythm section, adapted perfectly to the drum beats without the slightest hint of reservation or abandonment. 

This was Punk and pop rolled into one, before anyone had ever thought of combining the two extremes. The Pretenders made the combination work, and the formula was followed by many, many bands to follow.

Unfortunately, after The Pretenders second album, Pete Faradon would be kicked out of the band because of problems with his increased drug abuse. James Honeyman Scott would die two days later from a drug overdose. In the aftermath, the Pretenders released an impressive third album, “Learning To Crawl”. But they would never again achieve the chemistry that existed on their first two albums. Absolute punk-pop masterpieces.