Monday, February 1, 2010

Ode to a Tape: '70s and '80s Indies

Text and live images © Robert Barry Francos, 2010
Videos from the Internet

I was going to be driving to Buffalo to visit my pal Bernie Kugel in the early 1980s, who had taken our group, Les Biens (him vox and guitar, me on very bad bass), and turned it into one of the truly seminal and loved band from the area, The Good. This tape was made for the 400 mile journey from Brooklyn. I’d travel up to Buffalo many times over the years, luckily getting to know many of the key players up there, hanging out at the record shop Play It Again Sam, which became the classic Home of the Hits, and at Tommy Calandra’s BCMK Studios (Buffalo College of Musical Knowledge), where much of the important underground music was recorded.

The AdvertsOne Chord Wonders
The AdvertsGary Gilmore’s Eyes
I liked both these songs from the first time I heard them. In fact, they remain some of my favorite British punk songs. From the opening of “OCW”’s off-beat beat, you knew you were hearing something interesting. When I’d play it for people, I’d always tell them to try and tap their finger along. TV Smith’s vocals were never better than the Adverts period. This was lo-fi, and it worked great. “GGE” was more novelty to me than “OCW,” but the beat was also solid. The “cute girl bassist” (Gaye Advert) got a lot of notice, but the drummer, Driver, really was key on these releases. Note that the version on the “GGE” video is different than the single.

B-Girls”B” Side
I saw them play twice at CBGB’s, once opening for the Runaways (post-Cherie Currie, when Joan Jett took over). They were a fun band from British Columbia who released some great material on Bomp! Records. This was the B-side of their more famous “Fun at the Beach,” but both songs were A-sides to me. The lead singer left (much like the Runaways) and the secondary singer came to the front by the second time I saw them. It was as fun a show live as the studio recorded single. The only video I could find was them playing now, so I chose to leave it go.

Nothing against Pete Shelley, but I always thought when Howard DeVito did the vocals, it was the best the Buzzcocks sounded. The Spiral Scratch EP is classic. Of course when I got to meet Pete and bassist Steve Diggle (pictured) during an interview for Videowave, for which I was the videographer, I didn’t mention that. I did get to see the Buzzcocks (Pete period) play in New York at – I think it was the Ritz – but I did not have fun that night thanks to some idiots in the audience, which almost led me into to a fistfight. But I did get to hear some great stories about Pete from one of his paramours at around the time I made this tape that I will never repeat…but still makes me smile.

Wayne CountyMax’s Kansas City, Pts I & II
Okay, when I talk about Wayne County, I use him; when I talk about Jayne, I use her. Clear? The first time I saw Wayne play (pictured), it was at Max’s, with the Back Street Boys, on a bill with Cherry Vanilla and Her Staten Island Band, and the Fast. With a wig that would make Dolly Parton jealous, he strutted around like he owned the place, and back then, he pretty much did, as he often DJ’d. On the tape, this was taken from the single on Max’s Kansas City Records, so the song is broken into two parts for each side; I hadn’t gotten the full one that would come out later. The song really is an insider’s view of the scene back then. At some point, he mentions quite a few local bands (and one fake one), nearly all of them I had seen play. Still a great song. On the video from the ‘70s, he is joined again by the Fast (more on them later).

The CrampsThe Way I Walk
This is still one of their strongest songs, especially during their rockabilly / voodoobilly period. If I remember correctly, this single was given to me by the band (coversleeve included, woo-hoo) when I interviewed them in mid-1977, as the first official band to be sought out for the first issue of my ‘zine, FFanzeen. At that time, Miriam was still the drummer, and she left shortly after to join the Nervus Rex. The Cramps always put on a great show, and I saw them many times, once even opening for the Ramones at CBGB’s. [R.I.P. Lux and Bryan.]

The DamnedNeat Neat Neat
The DamnedStab Your Back
The DamnedNew Rose
The DamnedHelp!
I saw the Damned a number of times at CBGB’s, including most of the nights the Dead Boys opened for them. All of them were amazing shows, including the one where I went with the aforementioned Bernie, and we interviewed Capt. Sensible for Bernie’s ‘zine. Afterwards we went backstage with the Capt., and as we were walking out, I remember I said something snide to Dave Vanian in response to something he said, and he smacked me on the back of the head. I also had heard about the Dead Boys and open beer bottles, so I kept my finger over the top of mine at all times. After the first album, the Damned sort of went “Goth,” and I lost interest in them. All the songs on this tape are taken from their singles, not the album. Note that with the videos below, “Stab Your Back” is set for not being copied, so I included the URL instead; for “Help,” there is a false start, but then the song plays as recorded.

Earth QuakeFriday on My Mind
More garage than punk by far, Earth Quake was on the Beserkley label, along with Jonathan Richman. They were a fun band, who did a try-out on the Gong Show, though I don’t remember if they were gonged or not. To me, this version is equally good to the original Easybeats one, albeit it with a stronger bottom. This video version is not the same mix as the single, nor is it as powerful.

EaterThinkin’ of the U.S.A.
Yeah, I know this song puts down the U.S., but I still thought it was fun. I really don’t know much of what they’re saying, and though I could probably look up the lyrics on the ‘Net, I choose not to do that. I always wondered, though, what Walter Lure thought of his mention; I know Lou Reed must hate it, as he hated the Dictator’s quip in “Two Tub Man.” Meanwhile, this song has a very catchy chorus and the warped musical bridges just increase the charm of “anyone can play” punk.

The FastIt’s Like Love
The FastKids Just Wanna Dance
Basically, the Fast came in three acts. The first one I saw in 1974 at a performance in Prospect Park (with Bernie) before Paul Zone became the singer. They were more rock. The second phase, which was my favorite, was their pop stuff, including the two here, off the Max’s Kansas City album. Armand Zone’s synth works with his high vocals, as does Miki Zone (yes, they are all brothers, from Brooklyn) and his incredible mastery with the guitar. After Armand left, they lastly went the leather boys metal route, which was good as Miki was able to flush out his guitar work, but I thought not as much fun. The “KJWD” video here, recorded live at Max’s, was sort of between the second and third phase, after Armand’s departure, so the song is slowed down with more minor notes than the original single. [R.I.P. Miki and Armand.]

Generation XYour Generation
Billy Idol was considered a bit of a joke among the British punk scene as being more glamour boy than real, but this first single is among the best work he’s done. He has the same voice, but the music is more blunt (i.e., less metal), and he gets to grunt along with his snarl. By the time he was doing “Dancing With Myself” and “White Wedding,” he had become exactly what he was saying he was not in those early British days. Oh, and did you know he was born in the U.S. deep south? As a digression, when he first came to America, his drummer was Steve Missal from Ronnie & the Jitters. There is a picture of them in some issue of Billboard with Steve wearing a FFanzeen tee-shirt. If anyone has that photo, I’d love a copy. Anyway, the video version here is from the album, where my tape takes the song off the single, which is a bit more raw, and better than what is presented below.

The GoodWalk ‘Round the World
As I was going to see Bernie, I added his very first piece of vinyl, a single on BCMK Records (backed with “Clouds”). From the instrumental beginning, the listener knew that this was a record that was instantly identifiable, and with Bernie’s vocals and Jonathan Richman like lyrics, he showed himself to be a powerful pop songwriter. I’m amazed more people don’t cover his material. We need a Bernie Kugel Tribute CD, yeah! Unfortunately, there’s no video material of him on the ‘Net that I could find.

The Hammersmith GorillasYou Really Got Me
They’re no Kinks, but they have the punk energy, which always works with a song that is usually one of the first thing one learns to play (along with “Louie Louie,” but who’s going to try to top Iggy?). Seemed like a fun way to run out the first side of this tape.


The JumpersYou’ll Know Better When I’m Gone
This is the only 45 every produced by Bernie Kugel, with money borrowed from “Friday Night” Dave Olka. It is one of the better tunes to come out of that period of Buffalo, with strong songwriting by Bob Kozak and vocals by Terry Sullivan. Equally good was the flip, “I Want To Know What’s Going On,” which is a bit more up-tempo. Figured I would keep that for another tape.

Ken KaiserI Love You Laurie
A very simple song that tells of a young love from start to finish, this has very echoic vocals, keyboards and guitar, and is nothing short of charming. “We met at Teaneck High / In study hall / I was a little shy / And she was very tall,” Ken tells us. Luckily, this has been released at bonus material on the Korps’ Hello World CD on Gulcher Records.

Lenny KayeChild Bride
Lenny Kaye is way underrated as a solo artist. “Child Bride” is just one of many songs he put out on his own (i.e., not with the Patti Smith Group). I used to go see his Lenny Kaye Connection often at CBGB’s in the ‘80s, after Patti left for a while. There are so many great songs on his LKC album, like “Jealousy,” “I Got a Right,” and “I Cry Mercy.” This song is a total rave about young love, or loving the young, I guess: “A big reception on the Bowery / I’d even skip the Dowry!” Again, and surprisingly, finding Lenny’s solo stuff on the ‘Web is hard (even though I know there’s a video for “I Got a Right,” which is still timely.

Nick LoweSo It Goes
Nick Lowe was more than just Johnny Cash’s son-in-law, he was a fixed point in pop history in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, producing or playing on some of the best music coming out of that period, be it with his solo material, Rockpile, or on Dave Edmunds’ stuff. This was one of his bigger hits States-side, and has shown up in a lot of film soundtracks (including Rock and Roll High School). Wonder what Vonnegut thought of it. The video is live, taken from the Kenny Everett Show in the ‘70s.

MarblesComputer Cards
The Marbles were one of my favorite bands in the late ‘70s. Their power-pop material stays with me still. There are songs that I remember 30 years later, like “You Tomorrow” and “Jailbait.” This was one of Eric Li’s songs, taken from the flip of "Forgive & Forget," one of their few singles before they broke up, on Ork Records. The vocals are a bit strained, but well ahead of it’s time. [R.I.P. Eric Li.]

The NervesHanging on the Telephone
I always liked this original version over the one by Blondie. A few years ago, I saw Peter Case play a pop festival at Southpaw in Brooklyn. It was great hearing this song again.

The 101ersKeys to Your Heart
Lead singer Joe Strummer famously dropped this band and formed the Clash after hearing the Pistols play, but I find the 45 version of the song a killer, and better than much of the Clash, especially the post-London Calling period. I mean, there is no way crap like “Rock the Casbah” can top this pounder.

Tina PeelFifi Goes Pop
Way before being the Fuzztones, Rudi Protrudi and Deb O’Nair were the core of this very bizarre power pop group, with songs about dented genatalia, and this classic concerning the urban myth of a poodle in the microwave: “Fifi goes pop / At setting number 2 / Cooked from the inside out / In a Fifi BBQ.” The Fuzztones were solid garage with a twist of sinister, but this is straight Nancy Sinatra on LSD. They came from Pennsylvania to play this stuff, and I’m grateful.

The RattlersOn the Beach
The first time I saw the Rattlers, in a nascent form, was when they were known as Birdland, fronted by Lester Bangs. As the Rattlers, they were better. Matty, Mickey and Dave were a fun trio who had a great sense of the physical, moving around the stage in an organic way (think Townsend) rather than forced. When I interviewed them, they were grateful that I didn’t mention any of their relations, and yet Mickey had his brother Joey Ramone sing the vocals here. Go figure, hahaha. But I won’t say anything bad about them, cos not only were they an exciting band, but Mickey was the first musician to dedicate a song to me from the stage. Meanwhile, check out Mickey’s new bio book (with Leg McNeil) about his brother. The video is from the Uncle Floyd Show, and it’s strange watching Mickey mouth Joey’s vocals.

Real KidsCommon at Noon
Real KidsAll Kindsa Girls
Whatever dicks the band were in person (i.e., beating up punk kids), they made some damn fine music. These two singles are among Boston’s best from that period, in this genre (garage rock). While I never saw the Real Kids play, I have seen lead singer John Felice in the Primevals, at the Rat, and one of my best friends is married to their original bassist. There are a few versions of this floating around, such as the 45 where the end of “AKG” is cut off, the full version (which I have on this tape), and the Red Star album (the video). The full 45 version on this tape is easily the best. It’s less produced than the LP, and rawer. The “CAN” below is a live version. {R.I.P. Alpo]

The StompersFrom Coast to Coast
I don’t know, there was such a marked difference between the single and the album version of this song. The former, which I have taped, is a fun piece of pop rock with an up beat that is toe-tappable. The album one is just a boring pub rock version that did nothing for me. Perhaps it’s overproduction, but I’ll continue to love the 45.

Theoretical GirlsU.S. Millie
When the saw the TG’s play at CBGB’s I found them to be oddly charming. This song, along with synth-based bands like Suicide, was of a breed that came and went with technology. Now there is no simplicity, it’s all “look what I can do.” This song was just so out there, as was most of their material, I enjoyed it enough to get the record and end this tape with it. Years later, it would be collected on another New York punk collection, and sure enough, it was the closer. Perhaps I was prescient?

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