Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Grrl Power: Suzi Quatro: "48 Crash"

It is something of a truism that a lot of the things people talked about in the 60s didn't actually happen - for better or for worse - until the 70s.  In truth though, if the promise of rock 'n' roll - that it is democratic and therefore everyone can, if willing, participate - was delivered in the 60s, then there would have been a lot more Suzi Quatros around at this time.  But there was just the one, due to circumstances it is all too easy, forty years later, to understand.  The general idea then as now was, you girls can be pop singers or folk singer-songwriters or general light entertainment always-available-for-variety show singers, or even country singers, if you like.  But leave rock 'n' roll to the boys.

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. 

1 comment:

MikeMCSG said...

Stevie Nicks was on the cover of Jan 2013 Mojo but it was merely the Rumours cover. Kate Bush in June 2011 was the last to appear solo.