Monday, June 7, 2010

Ode to a Mixed Tape – ‘70s Underground

Text © Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet

This tape was made around 1980, created when I was getting ready to drive to Boston for the first time. Well, actually, I was given the opportunity to “couch” it at my friend Joe Vig’s place on Dragon Ct., in Woburn (about 20 miles north of Boston). This was the trip I would also meet the great Kenne Highland (who gave me easy directions for a local, but totally confusing for a New Yorker: “take Mass Ave to Comm Ave…), and photographer Rocco Cippilone, who would go on to create Bang! fanzine before disappearing into the ether.

The idea for the tape is of a collection of the start of the underground scene in New York (and beyond), that is loosely chronological at start, but varies as the vinyl came into my hand from my collection. As always, I have tried to find a video of the original release of the song as it appears on the tape, and if that’s not possible, an alternative or live version by the same artists. The qualities of the videos vary widely.


The Stooges - I Wanna Be Your Dog
The New York Scene of the mid-‘70s, starting with the New York Dolls, could arguably be considered the bastard child of Iggy and the Stooges, and the Velvet Underground: a mix of melody and amelodic layering. It’s harsh and sharp, with lyrics that were certainly not by the books. The VU had “Venus in Furs” and the Stooges had this, both of which have sadist / masochistic themes. While the VU one smoldered with artistic leanings, this just rocked as they did in Detroit in those days. Sometimes Alice Cooper gets lumped in with the “father of punk” label, but as much as I respect the man, even with angst ridden lyrics, he was more theatrical rock, much like KISS, but punk was stripped down (even though many of the early fans came from liking the both of these).

The Stooges - Search & Destroy
With Ron Ashton’s guitar madness (RIP Ron) holding this tune up, Iggy just explodes in one of the best opening lines of the period: “I’m a street walkin’ cheetah with a heart full of napalm.” In that timeframe, this line alone can be seen as one of the key reasons Iggy was seen as such a strong proto-punk figure. I’ve seen Iggy two or three times now, including at the Brooklyn Zoo and the Palladium. At Zoo show, he was a couple minutes into a song, when someone threw some ice at him. He stopped the song, and snarled, “Don’t you fuckin’ throw ice at me. This isn’t a request, this is a command!” Then he started the song from the beginning.

The New York Dolls - Personality Crisis
The only time I ever saw the Dolls in the ‘70s was post-Johnny and Jerry, and it still was exciting. Their sloppy stage performances were just what was needed in the days of excess but technically precise musicianship. The group was a perfect combination of musicians who were in worlds of their own while on stage, musically stepping all over each other, but they making it work. If I made this tape today, I would have followed this with “Trash.” (RIP Johnny, Jerry, etc.)

The Ramones - Blitzkrieg Bop
This is the start of true punk rock, even though the Ramones never considered themselves in that genre (Miriam Linna, in 1977, said to me that they did think of themselves as punks. This iconic song was mostly created by Tommy, originating as “Animal Hop,” before the rest of the band put their creative input to task, and came up with this, the most played of the Ramones songs. I remember at least 4 or 5 television commercials that have used it, the first being a beer ad. While I don’t think it’s their best song, it certainly seems to be their best known. (RIP Joey, Johnny, DeeDee)

The Ramones - Glad to See You Go
As much as I loved the self-titled first Ramones album, it’s their second and third that are my favorites. As this song shows, the lyrics are a bit stronger, the melodies are more pop without compromising their fierceness, and they rock hard, as Suzi Quatro may have said.

The Ramones - Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment
The grilling guitar as Joey sings the title line is a great shredding sound that would be imitated often by harder metal bands to come. If I made this tape now, I would have probably put in “Rockaway Beach” here, which has come to be my favorite Ramones song of the moment.

The Ramones - Oh Oh, I Love Her So
See, the Ramones could write some beautiful love songs without giving up who they were. I’m surprised a certain fast food chain hasn’t snatched this one up as a theme. I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen the Ramones play, starting with a show shared with Talking Head (who opened) on June 20, 1975, at CBGB. My first roll of 35mm film was used to take snaps of the Ramones, and the contact sheet was recently signed by Tommy, thanks to my pal Bernie Kugel. It’s framed on our living room wall.

Richard Hell and the Voidoids - Blank Generation
While I was never into drugs, this song managed to feels like it defined me in its moment in time, and I still consider myself part of the blank generation as a term to describe a regular on the New York City mid-1970s pre-punk rock/New Wave underground music scene. What a great opening line: “I was sayin’ let me outta here before I was even born / It’s such a gamble when you get a face.” Plus Richard Lloyd’s ripping, nearly a-tonal guitar shatters any preconceived ideas about standard song structure. The Voidoids and Television (at some point, bassist Hell was in both) were far closer to the center of the Velvet Underground noise and Stooge’s rock sonic attacks. (RIP Bob)

Richard Hell and the Voidoids - Love Comes in Spurts
This is about drugs and sex as much as Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” was about women and cars. There are three versions of this song that I know of: the earliest by the Heartbreakers (another band in which Hell was a member) which is represented in the video below, the Ork single that is on my tape, and the one from the Sire album, which is the better known. I put the one I liked best on this tape.

The Heartbreakers - One Track Mind
The lyrics to “Love Comes in Spurts” was written by Hell, and the music by Walter Lure. When Hell left the Heartbreakers, Lure wrote his own lyrics on a similar topic line, but the chorus is on a different part of the melody (ingenious, actually). When the title of the song comes up in the chorus, I like to overlap it by singing the original lyrics. Like something Sondheim would have done (or not!). While the line “There’s tracks on my arms / And tracks on my face / Tracks on the walls / All over the place” is the most quoted, my favorite is “My rule book is thin / It says ‘Don’t. Come. In!’” I understand Thunders was the main focus of the Heartbreakers, but Walter was equal in my eyes as far as personality, and possibly further in talent. I really miss the Lure / Thunders / Nolan / Rath version of this band, when it was at its peak they were (usually) tremendous to watch.

The Heartbreakers - Let Go
Now it’s Johnny Thunders’ turn on vocals, as he commands, “I don’t know why you just don’t bloooooooowwwwwww.” The video below is live, but mine’s from the L.A.M.F. album.

The Heartbreakers - Chinese Rocks (Live)
Written by DeeDee Ramone, the ‘Breakers make it their own by changing the lyrics at the end of each chorus. My tape is taken from the Live at Max’s album, and while the video here is different, it has the same altered lyrics, though the sound on the album is superior. Any one who knows me will tell you I love the Ramones, but the Heartbreakers’ version of this song is superior.

The Dictators - Master Race Rock
Led by four Jewish guys, the irony of the title of this song is not lost on their fans. From their first Go Girl Crazy album, basically this is making fun of the class bullies more than anything else, with hysterical lyrics, killer rock bottom, and a sailing guitar. It’s a perfect combination of Shernoff and Manitoba vocals, with a sharing of stanzas and chorus. I mean, how can anyone take lines like “My favorite part of growing up / Is when I’m sick and throwing up / It’s the dues you’ve got to pay / For eating burgers every day” serious enough to point a finger at the boys. I saw the band play many times, starting in ’75, and every one was a great show. DFFD.

The Dead Boys - Sonic Reducer
First time I saw the Dead Boys was them opening for the Damned. In fact, it seems the first few times was that combination, and always at CBGB’s. The Dead Boys were a killer act, and arguably the first hardcore band. From the opening salvo of the scream/whelp of “I don’t need anyone!” the challenge was initiated. Whether ripping off Mariah Aguier’s top onstage (I was there that infamous night) or crawling into the crashing drum kit mid-song, Bators was more than a singer, he was a force. The Lords of the New Church never really did that much for me, but the Dead Boys has not been matched by any of the band members’ other work. My tape has the opening cut of their Young, Loud and Snotty LP, though the video below is a live take. (RIP Stiv)

The Dead Boys - What Love Is
“I wanna write on your face with mah pretty knife / I want some of your precious smile… / I want you to know what love is.” That’s starts the chorus. Some of the songs on the album was dedicated to one of their underage groupies, Lydia Lunch (“I Need Lunch,” “Caught With the Meat in Your Mouth”), and I was kind of thinking this may have been as well, for some reason. There is a sense of both anger and pleading for understanding that runs through this. Bator again handles it with strength, and just the perfect hint of whine. The video below is a bad live version, but it’s the best I found.

Tuff Darts - Slash
Robert Gordon, who fronted Tuff Darts for it’s initiation, fortunately stayed long enough for two live songs recorded for the Live at CBGBs double album. This is a truly ballsy song about a groupie (I used to know which one, but I can’t remember these days… Fox?). It’s just full of sexual contempt, and pre-rockabilly Gordon totally emotes that he’d rather “Slash my wrists and cut my throat / Than have to spend the night with you.” I never saw Tuff Darts play that I can remember, but I have a fond memory of interviewing the band’s true leader and fashion maven, Jeff Salen, at his clothing store on 72 Street a long time ago. Say what you want by Gordon’s replacement, Gordon really fucked this band over royally, and what was his reward? A couple of near hit singles (“Someday, Someway” and “Only Make Believe”) and some non-selling albums. They could have been the Teenage Head of New York.


Tuff Darts - All For the Love of Rock’n’Roll
This song is more manifesto than anything else. It posits, “I don’t care about the money / I ain’t seen none / And I don’t care about the women / ‘Cause I just need one / The reason I say it / You really oughta know / It’s all for the love of rock’n’roll.” Someday, someone needs to do a bigger cover of this to perpetuate it. The video is from Jeff Salen’s Memorial. RIP, Jeff.

Patti Smith Group - Gloria (In Excelsis Deo)
The first time I saw Patti was at the now famous (and often bootlegged) show at the Bottom Line. She was such an exiting performer, especially in a smaller setting, where she would come out and talk to the audience and read some poems as the Group set up, and then when everyone was ready, she’s usually lead off with “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together.” The Horses album is one of the first of the New York underground scene to be recorded, and there is not a bad cut on it. Imagine how brave it must have been to have the first line of the first song of your first album start off “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.” I realize she was being poetic, but remember the hell (pun intended) that Lennon went through not very long before with his Jesus comment. When the PSG did the song on the first season of Saturday Night Live, it was well received. Now, it would probably cause a scandal due to that line; think of what happened to Sinead O’Conner. Despite a long fallow musical gap in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Patti came back and her material is as magnificent as ever. I’m looking forward to reading her new autobiography about Mapplethorpe. (RIP Richard Sohl)

Patti Smith Group - Free Money
I actually wanted to put “Land” here, but the song is nearly 10 minutes long, and it would have taken up too much time. So I picked this wishful song of desperation, that if I remember correctly, features Tom Verlaine (another of Smith’s paramours) and his flashing guitarwork. Like I said, the album is flawless, so I just went with an eeny-meeny pick.

The Afrika Korps - Jailbait Janet
After Kenne Highland left the Gizmos, he came to the New York tri-state area and did a song that would become one (of many) of his I-IV-V classics. This is a true story of a rivalry between Kenne and his friend, and the woman they both lusted after. Kenne is back doing music, and I look forward to hearing so much more from the man who has fronted more bands than anyone else I know - a few of which I’ve seen, and one I was a participant in both the naming of the band (The Hopelessly Obscure) and a recording session down the block from the Rat. The video is live; the album cut on my tape is not.

Talking Heads - Love (Goes To) Building on Fire
The Talking Heads only released one song as a trio, before Jerry Harrison joined the band, and it remains my favorite, despite the “inexplicable use of horns” (as Michael of the ex-Bleecker Street store Disc-o-Rama once said). I saw them a few times, the first opening for the Ramones in June 1975 (the Heads’ first show), and I was intrigued. Without any implication meant towards Harrison, I thought the keyboards made them too slick and I lost interest shortly after he joined. This song, their first release on Sire, is a non-LP 45.

The Modern Lovers - Pablo Picasso
From their first groundbreaking self-titled album, Jonathan Richman ended up being into the more pop side that followed on his next album by the time this came out, and refused to do any of the songs live when it hit the streets. Actually, I prefer the second album to the first, but this is a nicely dark and thumping song, which is highly influenced by the Velvet Underground (John Cale would later cover it).

The Modern Lovers - Road Runner
While the video below is the album version, though I actually prefer the alternate from the Beserkley Spitballs comp album (my fave JR song, “The New Bank Teller, is amazing), which I have on my tape. A digression… This mixed tape was playing as I was driving up to Woburn, and when Richman says, “Can you feel it out in Needam now?” I had just past the sign for the town. Then he sings, “Out on Route 128, by the power lines.” At that moment I was on Route 128, and there to the left were the power lines. It was a Keanu Reeves “whoa” moment.

Blondie - X Offender
Blondie were opening for the Ramones the second time I went to CBGB’s during the early summer of 1975, and I saw them quite a few times after that. At either that show or the one after, Debbie presciently stated, “Here’s our upcoming disco hit, ‘Heart of Glass’.” This was before they were even signed to a label. And speaking of which, Chrysalis released this single before the first album came out, which has a different mix. The video, fortunately, is also the single version. For me, Blondie’s best release was their first album, which had everything I liked about the band. After, they became way more over-produced, glossy and polished, and while they were still interesting, their records became more and more blah for my tastes at the time.

The Criminals - The Kids Are Back
After Sylvain Sylvain left the Dolls, but before his underrated stint with the 14th Street Band (whom I saw a few times, including at Hurrahs with the Rich Kids opening, featuring Glen Matlock and Midge Ure – who I found pretty lame), he formed the Criminals. This single is a nice, kick-ass number showing that he had more chops than just backing up Johansen. But even here he can’t get away from his Dolls “jacket,” naming off all the previous band’s members at a later point in the song. The video is the same song, but done live and with a different band backing him up on a telethon.

The Count - The Morn of the Confrontation
I was going to visit Joe Vig, so I figured I may as well put one of his songs on the tape. This was one of his very early recordings, and one of his best of the time. It’s a full out production, with a great tune and strong lyrics. He cries out on the chorus, “Seems like I’m trying / You know I’m trying all the time!” Viglione is another musician whose material is better than his career as a musician, which is a shame.

The Jumpers - I Wanna Know What’s Going On
Ah, the Jumpers, from Buffalo. Their first single was produced by Bernie Kugel by money borrowed from Dave Olka, it was written by band member Bob Kozak and fronted by the irrepressible (and Joey Ramone-level tall) Terry Sullivan. Kozak remains a strong songwriter (he and Kugel have performed together a number of times). Both this song and its flip, “You’ll Know Better When I’m Gone,” are likeable numbers in a Real Kids vein (or vice versa).

The Marbles - Forgive and Forget
From the first time I saw the Marbles, I fell in love with their sound. They had a scene-level hit with their powerpop Ork release, “Red Lights,” but I chose this Eric Li fronted number for this tape. Eric struggled with the high notes, but the melody and harmonies are as wondrous today as they were then. The Marbles only released two singles, but neither contain my favorites, “You Tomorrow” or “She’s Cool.” There is a live video of one of their shows floating around in some studio, and I recommend seeking it out (the clip below is from it). (RIP Eric)

Iggy Pop - Lust For Life
I started with Iggy, so I end with Iggy. This is one of his first solo hits, which has been way overused in commercials on television. It’s a commentary about the evils of consumption, and it’s used to promote the same. Go figure.


No comments:

Post a Comment