When the subject of punk royalty comes up, the conversation usually veers toward the likes of The Ramones, The Clash, Sex Pistols, Television, and Patti Smith. While there’ll always be a debate on whether or not the early U.S. or U.K. contingents were actually more “punk” than the other, these bands are largely seen as the main pioneers.
One name that often goes unmentioned is that of OG pre-punk axe-slinger Johnny Thunders. The former New York Doll is as influential for his spiky mane as his razor-sharp licks. The man not only coaxed the most ungodly sounds imaginable from his six-string syringe, but also—for better or for worse—made heroin addiction high fashion in the process.
The Dolls are thought of by many to be the formative link between glam and punk rock, and their ramshackle approach to rock ’n’ roll certainly helped lay the foundation for the scene to follow. Add to this, a brief stint with future Pistols mastermind Malcolm McLaren as manager towards the tail-end of the train wreck, and the punk lineage was forged. After the Dolls’ demise, Thunders struck out with his own band The Heartbreakers and joined the Anarchy Tour in 1976 with The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Damned in the U.K., seemingly unaware of the bands they’d be playing with or their major influence on them.
Like The Dolls, The Heartbreakers would soon crash and burn, and Thunders would pursue a solo career, inconsistently playing and recording over the next several years. In 1984, The Heartbreakers reconvened, touring and recording a few live sets. The recently released Madrid Memory (Cleopatra/MVD) is one such document of the era.
The Thunders legacy has been plundered to death with bargain-basement live releases of questionable quality flooding the marketplace. While Madrid Memory is not the greatest sonic experience, it does have some shining moments, especially with its inclusion of ex-Dolls Sylvain Sylvain and Jerry Nolan. The set includes Thunders staples like “Pipeline,” “Born Too Loose.” and “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” as well as Dolls fave “Personality Crisis,” and a cover of “Green Onions” by Booker T and the MGs.
Originally filmed for a TV broadcast in Madrid, the cinematic quality is patchy in spots. The camera angles are all over the place, and it’s sometimes hard to hear the rhythm guitars at all. The cameras also miss some of Thunders’ solo spots, which is a bit odd and frustrating. But overall, there is a very real, organic quality to it all, making this a very candid document of a moment in time during the mid 80s—when Johnny Thunders enjoyed a resurgence of sorts. And for that, it’s an entertaining set.
This set comes with a CD and DVD of the show, packaged in a smooth digipack with shots of Thunders from the day. There’s also a vinyl version on colored vinyl that’s a nice edition and an essential new piece for punk purists.
Another recent punk/glam nugget of note is All the Young Droogs, a new, three-disc comp from Cherry Red Records. As a co-creation of David Bowie and T.Rex’s Marc Bolan in the U.K. and The New York Dolls and Alice Cooper in these parts, glam made quite an impact in the early 70s. But with all movements, it got watered down, commercialized, and in some cases, became a goofy caricature of its former self over time.
From glam’s early 70s heyday through the end of the decade, the scene mutated further into often harder and weirder territory. Although traces of the once vibrant scene had all but disappeared from the charts, an underground variation that melded the glitter with more of a garage ethic was brewing and would soon help sow the seeds of punk.
Bands like Iron Virgin, Third World War, and Hot Rod were harder and tackier than their earlier counterparts, and often times, missed the point on how the image was supposed to enhance the music as opposed to overtaking it. This movement of sorts has been termed by journalists and record collectors as “Junk Shop Glam,” and the Cherry Red label has been at the forefront of unearthing the lion’s share of it on the comps: Glitterbest – 20 Pre-Punk ‘n’ Glam Terrace Stompers, Velvet Tinmine: 20 Junkshop Glam Ravers and Boobs: The Junkshop Glam Discotheque.
Now, the aptly titled All the Young Droogs culls much of the best of the individual comps into a 60-track box set. The set is rife with stomping beats, handclaps, chain-gang chants, and fist-pumping sing-a-longs that were more deviant than their forefathers, yet every bit as gritty as some of their future punk and Oi! offspring—just with longer hair and more flamboyant duds. For proof, just take a listen to early punk icons Cock Sparrer, who were obviously influenced by some of this stuff.
The set is organized into three categories: “Rock Off!,” containing the more in-your-face, driving boogie tunes; “Tubthumpers & Hellraisers,” with stomping, hand-clapping glam anthems, and “Elegance & Decadence” with its fair share of faux-art, gender-bending faire. The collection features bands from all over—U.K., U.S., New Zealand, Netherlands, Sweden, Iceland, and more.
And with that, it serves as a fascinating document of a transitional moment in time, showcasing bands that share a common lineage and thread that otherwise have no connection whatsoever. Standouts include the likes of Supernaut, Rats, Hector, Bilbo Baggins, and Alastair Riddell—and some of these groups would cost you a fair amount of coin if you were to try and track down the original vinyl artifacts.
The set comes in a glossy clamshell case with mini-LP style sleeves, plus a 36-page book written by Tony Barber from the Buzzcocks. Check it out for a few kicks and some good licks.
For questions, comments, or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com.