Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Suzi looked at this and said, fuck that.
I cannot emphasize how bad things were back in the early 70s, what with Janis Joplin gone and so on, but Suzi Quatro up in Detroit had a band with her sisters and they gigged and recorded singles and were known on the scene; Suzi taught herself bass and was known to not take crap off of anybody, not Alice Cooper, not Iggy Pop*. Mickie Most was in Detroit, saw her all-sisters band (The Pleasure Seekers) and figured he had a star-in-the-making on his hands, and convinced Suzi to move to London to become famous, just like Hendrix. And like restless American girls before and after, she moved, got her band together, wrote songs and found herself in the midst of the Glam Slam, and added its influence to her Detroit sound. She wore a leather suit (her idea, not Most's) for convenience first, and had a low-slung bass as she is tiny and basses are rather heavy, as anyone who's played one knows. Most got Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman to write songs for her, and this is song is one of them. That it's about male menopause is something the boys of '73 (and girls, for that matter) may not have understood, but it got to #2 on the Luxembourg chart anyway, and it is inadvertently therefore one of the most feminist songs of this blog so far. That so many of the Glam Slam affected femininity they could hardly complain when an actual woman - an outsider, to boot! - came along and rocked just as hard as they did. Suzi has always seen herself as a musician first, an entertainer second, and if she was a sex symbol for the times, well that was nice, but not her first intention.
Nowadays some might think that this thunderous music/high-pitched singing might be a bit dated, and I have noticed that this song doesn't tend to get played on UK radio (hmmm, I wonder why). But then the music industry, which includes rock radio, has always been a bit ambivalent to that general category of women who play rock 'n' roll; whole books have been written about the subject, and it is still observable (especially in the UK) how rock in general is a male preserve, with an invisible "No Girls Allowed" sign hanging outside the treehouse**. Suzi Quatro helped to start a wave of young women who also played and sang and sweated in small clubs and were looked down on, in more ways than one, but who succeeded as they believed in themselves and in the music they were making; and this has continued since, from the Runaways to Deap Valley, with stops everywhere from Girlschool to L7, The Go-Go's to Haim. Certainly Joan Jett credits Suzi for inspiration, but as the wave has moved forward I wonder if anyone else in the US remembers her at all. Perhaps the riot grrls did, in the early 90s; but for girls my age, Suzi was Leather Tuscadero in Happy Days and had that "Stumblin' In" hit song and that was about it. I grew up not knowing about this fierce song of male ascension and swift decline, and so my teenage version of If You Knew Suzi was Jett's Bad Reputation. I have left one woman out of this as I have written about her already, but suffice it to say when Chrissie Hynde got to London two years after Quatro she had to look to her just as Jett did as an example of what could be done, even if Hynde didn't want to exactly do it the same way***. Also, I am loathe to call Suzi a pioneer - Wanda Jackson, anyone? - but for the UK scene, she was one. That she played songs written by others (though she did write songs for albums and b-sides) was perhaps the only hitch in this story; but in this case, with "48 Crash" what Chinn and Chapman wrote would have been silly as sung by Mud or Sweet. Suzi attacks this song and sings it like...well, like a woman who knows that one day there will be a lot more women on the stage, just like her, and "the Industry" would just have to deal. On the whole, I think things aren't quite so bad as they can sometimes seem; not when Kate Nash is running bandcamps for teenage girls and Pussy Riot are getting support from all over the world (their version of this song would no doubt be "Putin Crash"). Quatro still performs, and is proud that she was the first, though she knows that it was inevitable. At some point, a young woman was bound to lead a band, sing and play an instrument. All she had to do was have the skill, determination and energy to do it, and it was Suzi who happened to be the first.
Next up: the endless loop of Baby Boomers, explained.
*Some guy in the audience stuck his tongue out in a rude way to her and she promptly took her bass and hit him on the head with it. That's just how things were in Detroit.
** I am trying and failing to remember if a female musician has made any recent covers of Q, Uncut or Mojo.
***Hynde interviewed Quatro for the NME and was generally impressed by her, on and offstage.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
I have no way of knowing if, during the popular boom of French music in the mid-60s, if "Et moi, et moi, et moi" was at all heard on the radio in the UK; Ray Dorset of Mungo Jerry got to hear it though, and hence did his own version that got to #2 hit on the NME chart. My own knowledge of French pop is fervent but rather slapdash; I didn't really know about Dutronc until now, even though he's mentioned by Cornershop on their classic "Brimful of Asha."
It is abstractly interesting to have French pop turned into UK pop; it's not so great when it gets drained of the humour and modesty and just becomes something to nod along with on a hot day. Something gets lost in the translation, and as admirable as it might be, I am glad that no one has, say, tried to do an English version of Autour de Lucie's "Chanson sans issue." The melody and voice are like one raised eyebrow, and it all works together in such stunning unity that I'm not sure anyone could pull it off in English.* I could scratch my head as to how such an utterly catchy song got approximately nowhere in the UK charts, but then remember how Arnaud Fleurent-Didier made no impact here in 2010 with his tremendous album La Reproduction. I am not sure why these things happen, or rather don't happen, but France remains a place, as far as I can tell, that gets airplay and attention for its dance music, as opposed to anything else; I will be discussing the greatness of that specific music in the future, but sadly the world of French pop is one I won't get to talk about that much...c'est dommage.
Next up: A true rock 'n' roller, and a still-taboo subject.
*If you like this song then you will like the album it comes from, Immobile.
Thursday, July 4, 2013
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
What I do know was that for sure the comic strip Peanuts was my favorite growing up - as soon as I found out there was such a thing as a used book store, I would go in and get old paperbacks from the 60s and at some point I also collected the much bigger anthologies - haphazardly coloring them in, getting to know the history of the strip (which had been going well over a decade by the time I was born). I grew up with Peanuts as a constant marker of time (A Charlie Brown Christmas winter, It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown* [which has Schroder playing WWI songs "It's A Long Way to Tipperary" and "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag" and has Snoopy fighting the Red Baron] for fall). I am not sure if this latter show was ever broadcast on UK television, but I do know that Peanuts was gaining popularity around this time; and the wildly imaginative Snoopy has more than something to do with that. Anyone can relate to him and his big heart and innate sense of what is right and wrong. (I saw Snoopy, Come Home when it came out in 1972 and was traumatized - there are a lot of signifiers in the movie, if you know how to watch it. Interestingly, it was a failure at the box office - ultimately too emotionally charged for kids like me, who didn't like to see Snoopy suffer so much.)
Because of all these reasons - and no others, save to have a hit - The Hotshots recorded this and it was a summertime smash, the kind of song kids buy (as they did the original) and might remember, even though I've never heard it on UK radio. Peanuts and Charles Schulz have passed into history as (I believe) both commercial success and highbrow art immortality**. That is very hard to do, but Schulz did it; whether he ever heard this, I don't know, but I imagine he would have liked it if he did. Thanks, old pal.
Next up: pass the popcorn.
*Kid Koala immortalized Charlie Brown's misery in this special in "Tricks 'n' Treats" on his Scratchcratchratchatch mixtape.
**Snoopy as the WWI pilot is such a famous image that it's on the cover of one of the lovely Peanuts complete works.
Now, this song was a #1 hit in 1969 and by all rights I shouldn't be talking about it here; but look, here it is again at #2, a woozy swoon of a song, part straight-up blues, part Shadows ease and gentleness. And that's fine, I don't really have much else to say about it, save for the fact that Fleetwood Mac - not in this exact configuration - are on their way to becoming, I would argue, the defining band of the 70s. Yes, I know that is a huge proclamation, but I feel it's true. Other bands or musicians may also qualify here (I have written about one of them over at Then Play Long recently) but none has the punctum - for me, anyway - of Fleetwood Mac. Perhaps that is because I am from California, and that just as I was leaving, they were arriving...
...or I should say, on their way to arriving. If the 70s can be described as a period of comedown, struggle and then renewal and success, then Fleetwood Mac are indeed the defining band of the time. In the summer of '73, when this was at #2 and people wondered if the band even existed any longer on TOTP, they might have been surprised (or...not) to hear that not one but two guitarists had left the group*, that a wayward American called Bob Welch had heard they needed help, and showed up, giving them direction and (un)wittingly predicting their future: California. Welch was from Los Angeles and sensed that Fleetwood Mac would do better there than in blokey-bluesy-UK, where the band could stretch out and perhaps find its feet. This was for the future; right now Fleetwood Mac were still in the UK, though they were gaining popularity in the US and with Welch's influence were starting to sound more American as well. About this time they were recording Mystery To Me (one of many, many albums of the 70s to have an awful cover**) which includes "Hypnotized" - a song Welch wrote that that got a lot of airplay without actually becoming a hit. It shares a certain laid-back charm with "Albatross" but is far more jazzy than Shadowy; it paves the way for "Dreams" a few years later, and the general eerieness that hangs over the band in general. It is also understated; the general received opinion of the L.A. band Haim is that they sound like Fleetwood Mac, but nobody ever seems to mention which one; let me be the first one (if I am the first one) to say they they remind me of the Bob Welch-era Mac, and it is a shame that Welch never got to hear them, as I think he would have liked them. It is also a shame, depending on how much stock you put in it, that while Fleetwood Mac are in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, Welch's heroic carrying of the band somehow didn't count - he's not included in the long list of band members. He belongs with them all, and it is sad to see he's not there.
In any case, like Fleetwood Mac my family were in transition; moving from Los Angeles to Canada, Oakville specifically. It was a hot summer; the summer of Watergate hearings, of ex-Beatles at #1 in the US. A time when a lot of people could sense that something had happened somewhere that was wrong, but couldn't do very much about it. "Will It Go Round In Circles" sang Billy Preston, while Dr. John lamented that he was in the right place, but at the wrong time. The Fog was dealt with in different ways in the US & the UK; the US tried to stick a happy face on it, or at least get it out, confessionally, into the open. The UK put its faith in the Glam Slam, in the eternal party that is rock 'n' roll itself. That will continue shortly, but next: what? A dog can't fly a plane!
*Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer had both left by now, Peter Green had already left before them.
**Truly, the music had to do the selling with this one. A beast eating a birthday cake? Huh?