There will always be those that are hopelessly stuck the past. They say things like “They just don’t write songs like they used to,” or “The scene was so much better back in the day.” After a while, it becomes as cliché as the new music they’re criticizing in the first place. No matter how much I might think it sometimes, I don’t say it, because everyone has their own special time with discovering music that reminds them of a certain period in their lives, and I am in no position to pass judgment. On top of that, I just don’t want to be that annoying old guy.
But one thing I will say without reservation is that the way we used to shop for music (and still do to some limited extent) blows away the current practice. I’m referring specifically to the practice of shopping at real record stores to discover and obtain one’s music. And buying is just a part of it. Record stores provide exposure. You have to pick through columns and stacks to find what you want, thus discovering new stuff along the way.
It was through this process as young record store hound that I discovered the little-known (at least in these parts) UK band Crazyhead. Its original release hit during a very cool time for rock ‘n’ roll. Various sectors of punk, hard rock and other subgenres had begun to come together to forge a temporary underground scene that would see the likes of Jane’s Addiction, The Cult, Guns N’ Roses and Red Hot Chili Peppers soon become mainstream. There were many copyists who’d also rise the ranks, as well as other bands that would never truly get their due. Crazyhead was one of those latter bands.
I discovered the band by scouring the bargain bins for stuff to fill out my collection. I remember seeing scores of cheap promo copies of the band’s Desert Orchid album, which is generally an indication that no one really bought actual retail copies, just the opened promos that littered the stores. I decided to take a chance, mainly because the mangy looking band had an image that was similar to some other bands I liked. The sounds, however, were different from anything I’d ever heard.
The band was part of the short-lived “Grebo” scene that included other Anglo oddities such as Zodiac Mindwarp, The Wonderstuff, Pop Will Eat Itself and Gaye Bykers on Acid. Largely thought to be a creation of the UK music media, the scene consisted of bands too smart for their own good, some of which mixed genres such as rock and punk with hip hop and/or industrial production effects. From the outside, the only commonality this clutch of impertinent young bands had was a penchant for scraggly hair, bad hygiene and mismatched clothes.
In spite of the fact that it hailed from the same confines, Crazyhead had its own thing going altogether. Mixing a toxic combination of classic punk, ’60s garage rock and street glam with a heaping dose of black humor, courtesy of vocalist Anderson, the sound was dirty and lean, but surprising hooky and melodic (Think The Cramps meet Cheap Trick).
Desert Orchid (1988) was the band’s debut. The album opens with the ’60s-flavored “Time Has Taken Its Toll On You,” merging Anderson’s gritty vocals with the spidery guitars of the cleverly named Fast Transatlantic Dick and his accomplice Reverb. Toss in a big, hook-laden chorus and the song kicks off the album in high style. “Rags” furthers the cause with punchy drums, horns and sleazy guitars, while the band’s cover of “Have Love Will Travel” gives the original standard a cow-punk makeover, adding an equal shot of groove to the mix. “Jack the Scissor Man,” offers a unique take on punk, with driving riffs and an oddly addictive nursery-rhyme chorus. “I Don’t Want That Kind of Love,” is an anti-ballad of sorts, with an infectious chorus—the song would later be covered by fellow scenesters Jesus Jones on their debut a while later.
The highpoint of Desert Orchid is the single “What Gives You The Idea That You’re So Amazing Baby?” With its freight-train rhythms, punk bravado, insidious slide guitar and massive chorus that incorporates every syllable of the title within its tight confines, the song builds to an unholy climax with each refrain. And, it’s seriously like nothing else you’ve ever heard.
Unfortunately, Desert Orchid has been long out of print for years, and was never available on CD in these parts, until now. Cherry Red Records’ amazing reissue features the entire original album in sterling remastered sound, along with a second disc or singles, demos and rarities. For fans of ’60s rock, punk and otherwise, it’s time to explore this underappreciated gem now.
Check out “What Gives You The Idea That You’re So Amazing Baby?” below.
More releases from artists of yore:
As far back as a wee lad pooling his cash to buy Never Mind The Bollocks, I’ve had a deep appreciation for Motörhead. The attraction has been two-fold; equal parts the loud, proto-thrash sounds and the iconic imagery—with that I mean the gothic logo and the killer, albeit useless, umlaut. As a kid growing up listening to both punk and hard rock, Motörhead was the perfect bridge between AC/DC and The Ramones, and undeniable proof that you didn’t have to belong to one camp over the other.
Over time, the trio has settled into a comfortable niche, recycling old riffs and playing a bastardized version of barroom rock, with an almost by-the-numbers consistency that makes each new album a fairly predictable—but reliable—experience. Aftershock is no different. It’s got all of the requisite parts: Lemmy’s whisky-soaked gravel, Pete Campbell’s bluesy licks and Mikkey Dee’s monster drums, not mention that unmistakable distorted bass that takes center stage on such numbers as the groove-infected “Death Machine.”
Other standouts include the moody and understated “Lost Woman Blues,” which could easily be an homage to ZZ Top. “Dust and Glass,” has a vintage ‘70s dinosaur rock feel, with some atypically clear vocals for Mr. Kilmister, “Keep Your Powder Dry,” is a straight-forward, hard-rock number with a knack for AC/DC in its muscular power-chord bluster, and “Crying Shame,” is a swaggering number that cranks up the sleaze factor, recalling the LA scene, circa the late ‘80s.
All in all, while it’s not going to rival ‘Head classics like Ace of Spades or Another Perfect Day, Aftershock is a ballsy, rock ‘n’ roll affair, even if it stays pretty true to the blueprint. (UDR)
CBGB Original Soundtrack
While I haven’t seen the film about the original NYC punk club yet, I can certainly vouch for the music contained herein. But first, I have to admit that initially I wasn’t all that excited. After all, anyone feeling nostalgic for early punk rock can just go on iTunes and make a playlist, and much of this stuff is readily available for that. But, what piqued my interest was the historical context, the inclusion of artists that informed the early scene, plus a few less-knowns that we don’t hear too much about anymore.
The tracks provide a solid sampling of the pivotal pre-punk bands, some of the obvious ones—The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, MC5, New York Dolls and The Dictators—plus ‘60s garage greats The Count Five, and power pop pioneers Flamin’ Groovies. These two bands don’t immediately come to mind when revisiting this stuff, but have definite lineage nonetheless. There are also a couple bands that were part of the scene but don’t get near the notoriety they deserve like Tuff Darts, Wayne County & The Electric Chairs and the uber-obscure Laughing Dogs—especially nice to see these old hounds getting their due.
Beyond the unearthed gems and obscurities, there are the requisite Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, Television, Richard Hell, Joey Ramone and Dead Boys bits, plus tracks from superstars The Police, Talking Heads and Blondie (revising their pop nugget “Sunday Girl” for 2013). There’s also a track from CBGB owner Hilly Kristal, singing the kooky “Birds and the Bees,” a fitting tribute to one of the true forefathers of punk rock. (Omnivore)
Jellyfish Radio Jellyfish
Jellyfish was a band that truly died too soon. The San Francisco outfit put out just two albums during the early ‘90s, but has left a lasting impression nevertheless, maintaining a cult following and influencing hordes of younger bands obsessed with its swirling power pop sounds. Combining Beatlesque psychedelia with epic Queen-infused arrangements, massive vocal harmonies and crunchy power chords (plus, a sly nod to Saturday morning cartoon themes), the band created something infectious and wholly original.
As part of its retrospective campaign, Omnivore Recordings are releasing Radio Jellyfish, a collection of unplugged, acoustic numbers captured at two shows just after the release of the band’s second album Spilt Milk in 1993. Even in this stripped-down state, the performances are nothing short of amazing. It’s all here—the sweeping arrangements, the intricate vocal harmonies and the melancholy pop theatrics that typified the band’s studio output. Especially impressive are “Joining A Fan Club,” “The King Is Half Undressed,” and a killer cover of “I Can Hear the Grass Grow,” by ‘60s psych-pop gurus, The Move. Those in need of a Jellyfish fix should be very pleased—except for the fact that there are only nine songs here. (Omnivore)
Pop Will Eat Itself Dos Dedos Mis Amigos/A Lick of the Old Cassette Box
UK reissue label Cherry Red has been hard at work reissuing and repressing releases from Grebo leaders Pop Will Eat Itself. Out of all the bands from that scene, The Poppies have perhaps had the greatest impact. Their work during the late ‘80s merging pre-grunge, basement punk with hip hop samples and beats (Think Beastie Boys meets Ministry), helped devise a new template that would find favor with the masses a decade or so later. They’d also have a hand in bringing industrial sounds into the mainstream, with none other than Trent Reznor citing their influence and later signing them to his label.
But aside from its street cred, it’s not entirely hard to see why the band failed to make its mark in these parts. The manic delivery, over-the-top wise-ass raps and campy sound effects make for great fun when in the mood for a pre-screening of Animal House, but do get a bit grating after a while.
Dos Dedos Mis Amigos was released in 1994 and was somewhat of a break from the animated PWEI of years past. Focusing more on the industrial side of things—the band was signed to Trent Reznor’s label at this point—it’s a heavier affair that still showcases its quirkier side as in the lead single “Ich Bin Ein Auslander” and “Kick To Kill.” As one of the band’s more consistent albums, this reissue is a welcome addition, especially in that it also includes the lost album, A Lick of the Old Cassette Box (1996), which follows along similar lines and has never seen release until now.
Belfegore Self Titled
Belfegore was a short-lived German outfit playing a curious combination of new wave, goth, industrial and hard rock. A few years ahead of its time, its sole US release was too hip for the masses and the group subsequently went missing. While the band’s picture on the cover implies homoerotic German disco music, the actual sounds are far from it.
Opener “All That I Wanted” features an incessant, pointed guitar riff that compliments its hypnotic beats and heated vocal delivery. “Questions” also does well to crank up the eeriness with its Bauhaus-styled intro and chain-gang chorus that sticks to the psyche hours after listening. For ‘80s completists or those looking for a connection between the gothic scene and straight-up rock ‘n’ roll, this is a welcome reissue—the first on CD in the US. (Real Gone)
New Model Army Between Dog and Wolf
New Model Army was a key player for a time in the UK’s so-called “post-punk” movement. Post-punk—as the music press referred to it—encompassed a slew of artists that arrived on the scene just as punk was beginning to implode at the onset of the ‘80s. Punk’s rebellious spirit and anti-mainstream stance opened the doors to musicians of all stripes, who stretched the boundaries of rock ‘n’ roll in creative and often avant-garde ways. Thus, post-punk was born. (Think Joy Division, Killing Joke, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Devo, etc.)
This new album, featuring just one original member Justin Sullivan, strays a bit from the original blueprint of angular guitars, anthemic vocals and danceable beats, for a more ethereal, atmospheric approach. With a tribal feel and ample use of strings, brass, chants, gospel vocals and other un-rock devices, songs like “Horsemen” and “Seven Times” have an epic, theatrical feel, making for an interesting listening experience. Heavy on dramatics, it may not be everyone’s thing, but is definitely unlike anything else you’ve heard lately. (Eagle/Ear)
John Cale Reissues
As a founding member of the Velvet Underground, John Cale’s place in the annals of punk history is ironclad. That said, the stuff he’s released since has been hit or miss to say the least. Staying true to his roots—and what made the Velvets so revolutionary—Cale’s penchant for the experimental is often difficult and disjointed, at least for these ears.
But, Cale’s material released through Island Records during the mid ‘70s saw him crank out rock and pop songs with a twist, as evidenced on one of these latest reissues, Fear (1974). With a strong lineup featuring Roxy Music alumni Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay, the songs range from moody pop as in “Fear is a Man’s Best Friend” and “Ship of Fools” to the plodding intensity of “Gun,” which was later covered by Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Sterling reissue label Culture Factory has reissued the album in sharp remastered form, in a svelte mini-LP cover that replicates the original art. Also, check out the label’s reissue of Cale’s Helen of Troy, which follows a similar path and features journeyman, proto-punk axe man Chris Spedding, plus the experimental Church of Anthrax album. (Culture Factory)
Alan Parsons Project I Robot – Deluxe Edition
Alan Parsons created a curious combination of prog, art rock, electronic music and Sci-Fi pop during the ‘70s and ‘80s, scoring a few unexpected hits in the process. I Robot still stands as one of his biggest, and is often played on classic rock radio. The concept album focuses on the rise of the machines, a popular topic in mid ‘70s pop culture. Parsons was always a bit of an oddball, on one hand he was a darling of the tuned-in progressive rock set, while cranking out syrupy, radio-friendly pop hits at the same time, as evidenced in “Don’t Let it Show” and “Breakdown.”
This new reissue expands upon the original with remastered sound, expanded packaging and a bonus disc of rarities. For fans of bands like Muse, this may be an interesting look back at the roots of pop-prog. (Sony Legacy)
Before you get too excited, this is not a review of the current indie pop band Killers from Las Vegas. These Killers hailed from the UK and featured none other than early Iron Maiden vocalist Paul Di’Anno in the driver’s seat, plus a few other British metal VIPs from bands like Tank and Raven. Those familiar with Di’Anno know that he can be a bit of a loose cannon, and while it might add a certain amount of juice to his delivery, it’s not necessarily a good thing when it comes to maintaining a working band.
After stints with jail, drugs, lineup flux and all-around bad blood, Killers were put out of their misery, but did manage to crank out three albums, a live offering and two studio efforts. Studio albums Murder One (1992) and Menace To Society (1994) are both heavy affairs, rife with plundering riffs and Di’Anno’s guttural croon, but the live album, Assault on South America, is the star here.
Released before the two studio albums, it’s comprised of mostly vintage Maiden numbers that sound loud and proud, as played by a hungry new band with something to prove. Too bad Di’Anno couldn’t maintain this level of focus throughout his other endeavors. Pity, that. Each reissue comes in a plush digipack, with expanded packaging. (Metal Mind/MVD)
Heretic From the Vaults…Tortured and Broken
If you ever find yourself browsing one of the many used record stores of Los Angeles, you will inevitably stumble upon a well-worn copy of Heretic’s Torture Knows No Boundary EP. As the band hailed from LA during the mid ‘80s, my guess is that they sold quite a few of these back in the day only to have them unloaded with the rise of the CD. (That, or some unsavory label exec liquidated his storage shed for pennies on the dollar.) Either way, I’ve seen a lot of copies of this and the band’s other release Breaking Point on vinyl over the years, but never on CD…until now.
Aside from the fact that it once featured future Metal Church singer Mike Howe in its ranks, the interesting thing about Heretic and many of its brethren from the era, is that in spite of the fact that the music was a heavy hybrid of Priest/Maiden-ish traditional metal, there’s a decent chance it would ultimately be lumped in with the more pop-oriented bands of the day such as Skid Row, due to its appearance. The long, semi-big hair and colorful leather duds were standard-issue back then, even with heavy bands, not just the ones considered to be glam or “hair metal”—especially before thrash took off.
Torture Knows No Boundary showcases Heretic’s knack for heavy riffs, pounding rhythms and soaring vocal bits. If you’ve followed LA metal over the years, this won’t sound particularly novel or unique, but songs like “Ride With the Angels” and “Blood Will Tell” showcase the band’s unflinching spirit—unlike the irony-laden grunge scene of a few years later, these guys really meant it! This plush set includes both releases, plus a DVD of live cuts, expanded booklets and a slew of bonus materials. All praise Metal Blade for unearthing this stuff for the unwashed metal masses. (Metal Blade)
Blodwyn Pig Pigthology
Blodwyn Pig was a heavy, blues-rock band from the UK during the late ‘60s. Perhaps most famous for featuring future Jethro Tull guitarist Mick Abrahams, the band also traveled in the same circles as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and other heavies. Given today’s fascination with the era, and a slew of new bands emulating the loud, bluesy riffs and acidic haze of the scene, I thought it a perfect addition to this installment.
This comp features a clutch of outtakes and unreleased tracks, plus some recent remasters. While the tracks lack the sheen of a polished studio offering, you can really hear everything—from the up-front vocals in the mix, to the jazzy, sometimes proggy instrumentation. “Stormy Monday” sounds especially vivid, showcasing Abrahams’ considerable knack for tasty licks, while “See My Way” is strange, catchy and cool, so much so, that it was covered by Joey Ramone many years later. (Gonzo MultiMedia UK)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a note at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers, JK