Roxy Music

Glam rock and punk rock were two opposing forces in the 1970s. On their debut album, Roxy Music took it as a challenge to meld the two into a cohesive collection of songs, the likes of no one had heard before. The result was pure brilliance.

Oil and vinegar can not be mixed together homogeneously, yet they can be combined into something incredible. Roxy Music’s first album combines the slick oil of glam and art rock with the piss and vinegar of punk to make an incredible album that satisfies and stimulates the auditory to the same effect of a good olive oil and Balsamic vinegar to the palate. Great in itself, but also an excellent foundation to be built upon with things to come.

The Waitresses – Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?

The Waitresses were best known for their quirky 1982 new wave hit “I Know What Boys Want”. Anyone who never checked them out beyond their one hit wonder status, has no idea what they are missing.

Quirky, sure. But The Waitresses were also about intelligent, multifaceted arrangements and musicianship that had every bit as much in common with the CBGB crowd in New York as it did with the virtuosic eclecticism of Frank Zappa.

The Waitresses released a couple of albums following “Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?” Unfortunately neither contained the magic combination of what they accomplished on their debut. An album I rank as one of the top ten albums from the 1980’s.

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.

Dinosaur Jr. – You’re Living All Over Me

The second album by Dinosaur Jr, “You’re Living All Over Me” is not an album that’s for the faint of heart. Guitarist J. Mascis had a habit of cranking the distortion up on his guitar to levels that would make even Neil Young shudder in amazement. Yet he could somehow make it come out feeling melodic…bordering on controlled chaos.

I’ll admit, this is an album I have to be in the mood for (which tonight I am). It’s raw. It’s raucous. It’s as unforgiving as a sucker punch to your face. And it’s as exhilarating as sitting in the front seat of a roller-coaster that’s about to jump the tracks, but somehow it holds on.

Dinosaur Jr. is one of those bands that is hard to fit into a specific genre because they just did what they did, with no reservations and without ever asking forgiveness.
Punk rock.
Post Punk.
Alternative.
Indie rock.
Shoegaze.
Dinosaur Jr. was all of the above.

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 CruĂ«, 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.

The Replacements – For Sale: Live At Maxwell’s 1986

I was a fan of The Replacements the first time I heard them. In the ’80s amongst the new wave, alternative, and hair bands, the Matts, as they affectionately became known to their fans, epitomized the attitude of rock and roll.  They weren’t Punk. They weren’t hard rock. They weren’t alternative or indie. They were a refreshing and desperate gasp of breath for a flailing music industry.

“For Sale:…” was recorded over 30 years ago, but just released today. It was intended to be released following the Matts’ major label debut “Tim”, and not too long after they were banned from any NBC television show because they totally trashed the dressing rooms during their appearance on Saturday Night Live and couldn’t refrain themselves from using expletives during their on-air performance. But somewhere along the way the tapes were lost; only recently discovered.

The Replacements were a band that didn’t care about pomp, polish, or any type of flamboyance. They never took the spotlight. They only went on stage on stage to rock their asses off. And if they were too drunk, and f***** it up here and there, so be it. Not giving a s*** was part of the beauty of it.

“For Sale: Live At Maxwell’s 1986” is  live, loose, raucous rock and roll, played without any abandon. If that’s what you’re in the mood for, you will find no better. I am so glad this album was discovered in the Warner Brothers vault, and that they decided to finally release it.

It was well worth the wait.

The Replacements always took a strong stance in doing things their way. In order to sign a major label deal, they had to agree to record at least one music video for a song from it. They had always vehemently opposed recording music videos. So for “Bastards Of Young”, the first single off of “Tim”, the video showed nothing more than someone queuing up the record, sitting down and listening to the song. The only focus was on the speaker playing the music. They were never asked to do another video.

Restless Variations

Long before Record Store Day, there was a time when indie record labels released compilation albums promoting the cool-ass bands signed to them because…well, just because. A lot of the collections were crap, with only one or two good songs on them, if that. But what the hell, they were cheap, so you gave ’em a shot whenever you had a few extra bucks. One compilation that really hit the mark was Restless Variations.

Restless records was a post-punk extension of Enigma records which had made its name by being the starting label for a number of bands that later signed to major labels. I don’t think any of the bands on Restless ever signed a major label deal. Then again, I’d be willing to bet none of them gave a f*ck if they did. It was that moxy that makes this a kick-ass collection of songs by bands that almost nobody has heard of – Electric Peace, Get Smart!, Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper, Fear, and The Lazy Cowgirls were a few of the bands on this album that never went anywhere beyond maybe a cult following. And I’d be remiss if I left out The Dead Milkmen. Hell, Bitchin’ Camaro is the staple track of this album.

Restless Variations was the epic sound of struggling bands trying to make it, doing it their way. Yeah, for the most part, they all failed miserably. But they had fun trying…and they left at least one great song in their wake. And isn’t that what it’s all about?