Saturday, May 22, 2010

Flash Metal Suicide: Flamin' Groovies "Teenage Head"

Flamin' Groovies
Teenage Head
Kama Sutra Records, 1971

The Flamin' Groovies are a bit of a difficult band to pin down. But in one sense, no. They've always been a kick ass rock n' roll band. In another sense, yeah--they've changed up quite radically within the framework of three or four chords, in that there's bound to be camps of people that like certain eras much more than another. You've got the early "Sneakers" and "Supersnazz" era, which is largely Sun Records influenced rockabilly. It's an underrated template for psychobilly--the Cramps undoubtedly learned some things on how to resurrect 50's music with a dash of humour and camp n' roll from the Groovies. Jon Spencer undoubtedly copped some of his "ironic Elvis" from singer Roy Loney. Then you have the later Cyril Jordan led period which is more garagey--Beatles/ Stones power pop. There could easily be a Flash Metal Suicide for all three eras.

My favorite is the mid period "Flamingo" and "Teenage Head" era--all Stonesy boogie and revved up blues. It's not really clear why exactly they did this for a couple of albums and then ditched it. But that's probably why they divided their own audiences and split their own vote, because I know more than a few people that are decidedly heavily into the Roy Loney era, or the non-Loney era. Loney and Jordan apparently disagreed on which direction they were headed in; Loney wanted the straight up rock, Jordan wanted the British Invasion. Such is life in a band, the cliched "creative differences".

It's possible that the band may have been perceived as a novelty due to the 50's revival thing, as well as Roy Loney's elastic, often spastic vocal style wherein he could go from a hiccuping Elvis to snivelling mental patient on release from the looney bin--often within the same song. Perhaps he just sounded like a bunch of different singers and different personalities. At times, it's hard to believe that it's the same guy singing. And on the cover of debut "Supersnazz" (though really, the true debut is "Sneakers"), the cartoon characters likely didn't help matters. They didn't really have an image either--a bunch of pretty ordinary looking dudes, the type that you knew were rockers in school, but they were all dropouts or burnouts or something like that. They just sort of wandered through the halls like the undead on a non-existent Halloween.

But it's safe to say that most of the bands that really move me, they were either way ahead of their time, or drastically behind. Or both. The Groovies were probably just too early for the rockabilly revival, and too late for the original wave of it; perceived as out of date and flogging an out of date trend. Adding insult to injury was that the band also was strongly influenced by the 60's, sounding alot like alot of Nuggets bands that were into "Louie Louie" covers and whatnot. So there had to have been alot of people that thought that the Groovies were horribly out of date when "Sneakers" came out in 1968 (released and financed by the band themselves, originally--DIY and protopunk credentials intact). Epic released their first album "Supersnazz", then when it sold poorly, it was back to the drawing board. That's a good reason for a Flash Metal Suicide right there.

The Groovies are also not really considered to be protopunk. In some circles they are, but in alot, no. But they'd eschewed alot of the high energy, good times no bullshit three chord rock n' roll that punk took most of it's cues from. With the Groovies, there also was no real gimmick. There wasn't any real "us versus them" mentality. There was no peanut butter. There was no White Panther revolutions. Just the music. Back in the hippie flower power San Fran scene in the late 60's when the Groovies started up, I imagine that these guys weren't exactly popular--no multipart 10-20 minute songs, just 3 minute blasts of good time music. Maybe if they were from Detroit or New York, they'd have been lumped in with the protopunks. I dunno.

Basically, "Teenage Head" rips from start to finish. You know that when you influence a band-- that became an influential band in their own right--to adopt your album name as their band name, it's gotta have a merit or three. "High Flyin' Baby" kicks it off in grand style; slide guitar licks from Cyril Jordan and Tim Lynch, youthful energy and establishing a rowdy, freewheeling atmosphere, with Loney in a maniacal vocal persona. "City Lights" is a slow swamp blues with more slide guitar, with saloon styled piano courtesy of Memphis legend Jim Dickinson, with Loney reflecting that "...well the nighttime girls are always laughing, movie stars are autographing". "Have You Seen My Baby" (Randy Newman cover) cranks the amps back up. The cymbal hit accents on every second note really sounds like the template for the first Ramones album. "Yesterday's Numbers" is a surprisingly reflective mid tempo pop song that--in a perfect world--would have bridged the creative differences in between Loney's madhouse rock aesthetic and Jordan's more pop oriented style for at least another album or two. "Have you ever been alone, so long you couldn't cry....did you ever have a home, did you ever tell a lie?" asks Loney. It's not the most revelatory of lyrics ever, but proves that the band did have a sense of introspection amidst all the power and speed, with Loney repeating the "tell me it's alright!" line for awhile into the outro to close out the album, as if he's trying to be reassured of the situation.

The title track is next, a snarling rocker, with Loney in the rabid, manic wiseass vocal persona; it's title taken from a Kim Fowley statement about looking for some "teenage head". As the lyric goes, it could be a motto for greaseballs, dropouts and everywhere--"i'm a monster, got a revved up teenage head...half a boy and half a man, i'm half at sea and half on land, oh my". There 'ya got the Cramps without the horror visuals and maybe Lux's leopard codpiece. It's a true classic. It should be up there with all the other classic rock tracks, but sadly, it's not nearly as revered in nostalgia circles other than "cult band" revery. When I hear this, it's instant air guitar time. Hell, i'll take your air guitar and smash it through a non-existent air amp.

"when ya' see me, better turn your tail and run...
'cause i'm angry and I'll mess you up for fun...
i'm a child of atom bombs and rotten air and Vietnams...
I am you,
you are me. "

A Heart Full of Napalm, but two years earlier, man. Gotta love it. That's about as political as you get from the Groovies--but it's not a political statement as much as they're saying that they don't even need a reason to pull the prank....hey man, it's nothing personal. And it's not even business. They do it because that's what they do, they get off on it, it's leisure.

Robert Johnson's "32-20" is next, and it's a rousing stompdown with just acoustic guitar, vocals, slide and mild percussion. "Evil Hearted Ada" follows, and it's sounds the most like the early Groovies out of all the songs on the album; hiccuping Evil Elvis surfaces here in our hero Roy the Boy for this one.

Rock n' roll isn't exactly science--you can only get so far away from your influences, but considering the ease at which the Groovies have always traversed between covers and their own originals, they're one of the few bands that do justice to the greats, and then hit you with a song that you're sure is a cover, but it's not. "Doctor Boogie" sounds like it's a cover, but it's a Loney/ Jordan original. I'm not usually a covers type of guy (if you can't rewrite three chords successfully in a rock n' roll band, you should give up), but the Groovies are one of those bands that I really enjoy hearing them play those standards, because like the Sonics, they rip 'em a whole new arsehole when they do do 'em.

The album ender, "Whiskey Woman", could be the highlight of the album, and again proves that the band has a mellow side to their attack. I like it better than "Wild Horses"--same sort of funereal gospel vibe (although "Wild Horses" sounds like the angelic version that ascends out of the ashes of said metaphorical whiskey woman's wreckage). E minor to C has been done to death, but if it works, why mess with it? It's probably what you could call their "Freebird"--has a Southern rock thing to it and then speeds up into an angry two riff rocker that pulverizes. It could easily be longer than it's 5 minutes--but the Groovies being about economy, they get it in, bash it out, and get out leaving you wanting more.

The Groovies would never again return to this sound. Loney left after this album, and Jordan resurfaced with the band on the Dave Edmunds produced "Shake Some Action" five years later in 1976--a great album in it's own right--but in alot of ways, it wasn't the same band anymore. The Buddha reissue/ remaster includes a bunch of bonus tracks--all covers, aside from "Going Out Theme" (version 2).

--Ryan Settee
Slash - Slash
Roadrunner / EMI / Universal

All-star teams, or album, even, are never really a good idea, are they. I trust you're well aware of this. It may well be that only Jerry Lee has truly managed it (though even Jerry Lee had fuckin' Kid Rock on his Last Man Standing. Though, quite incidentally I'd rather he'd've fired a playful warning shot across Mick Jagger's brow instead, or at least first, for his inane wannabe Fugee Jerry-flattering), not counting Keith's backing of Chuck Berry in 1986 or Springsteen's collar-hauling of Gary 'US' Bonds career as they don't follow quite the same lines. Often - John Lee Hooker's early nineties return to recording albums come to mind, despite barely having heard them - they're garlanded with such gratuitous guests grabbing some glory before the subject's grave grows impatient that they're cluttered yet cavernous song-skeletons with no bone-marrow. This, and the Saturday tea-time TV stare-stealer aspect of the title, may well have made Slash um, slash, the '& Friends' bit. Sadly it isn't his embarrassment at thusly allowing this week's Plant-aper in the guise of that goon from that shite Australian band that aren't even (alas, in the only case of it kind - ever)) Jet - oh how I'd love to see him end his days covering for Lenny Wolf in a reformed Kingdom Come - and...yeah him. (I am, I expect, simply insidiously jealous. I mean, everyday that passes heralds less of a chance to record some Cow'n'Tree with Keane). Though initially plus points accrued after it turned out not be quite as terriblly turgid and phoned-in as I anticipated, predicated not against Slash so much as the company he sought, pleasant surprise was too swiftly stultified by the stadium-strutting backline of banality with brief hairpin bends of brash brandished. Especially upon entering into my journalistic preparations today I did maketh a note that he'd really liked to have had his old compadre Mike Monroe sing a track but it seems, alas, none of them suited Mr M's singing style. Eeerm, see that guitary-shaped thing? Take hold of it until one works with MM - or, hmmmm, I guess even Slash doesn't need his accountant to tell him that a loose Hanoi Rock ain't gonna shift no units into gold. Cynical curiosity ensconces me though. What a great idea it is though to get all these high profile cats (and assorted twats) together, maximise your kill count. Waxl'll be disarticulating chickens at twenty paces. Though a romantic bet could still be wagered that MM quietly disaccociated himself. All of GN'R feature minus the molten midget, which is nice for giving Izzy & Steven Adler some readies. Not so nice as there's again a whole record of Matt 'Tedious' Sorum's soporific lumpen methodical money-counting drumming, presumably. No? No? Sounds like it. But the job of copying him went largely to Josh Freese, so maybe the blame lies with the mainman.

Anyhell, so what's he done then? To start with it isn't an exercise in frivolous fret-escapades (I heard a rumour, a vicious cruel lie it was, that Slash's tribute to Racer X got short shrift at the label), there's one but it does however come with an unshakeable mark of the boardroom about it. P'raps it's a byproduct of a different singer each song, but there's a palpable sense of striving to offer the old something for everyone and as such have leapt - again perhaps willingly -into the obvious abyss of the big bland beatshop in a backstage area the size of Birmingham. Perhaps, as quickly became evident, 'tis that the young Hudson was always more inclined to what we now know as classic rock so it was a quick assimilation once Appetite wore off a little. Any hopes that a move to Roadrunner could unleash some fire will be quickly quashed - a multi-label Monoploy game is grinding these gears, gringo. Presumably with the wet blanket that lets drip mid-way through on Gotten (ooooh, if only a bunch of rockers went out like the christian pillocks burning Sabbath & Priest in the 80's and torched it). Like that act, this isn't progression or doing something different. Anyway, even entertaining the idea while at his worst man-nappy stage would be too far, putting it on an album is simply a dereliction of musical dues and duty, not maturity. It may be second place to Ronnie Wood reforming The Faces with that Mick Hucknall but it's as bad. T'isn't even a matter of tainting some rock music creed with poppy sacrilege. It's simply shite beyond any absurdity or contrariness.
Opener Ghost sees Ian Astbury doing pretty much what he'd been doing in The Cult (apart from referencing Paradise City) since they briefly re-emerged for the first time in 1998 or thereabouts, that being non-descript indie-rock groove with a touch of the funk along with an almost total lack of identity plus some of the most dubiously unshamanistic lyrics on anything ever, enjoining anyone slouching about the ceremony to 'kill the ghosts hiding in your soul' and kindly informing us several times that the past in fact, cannot be changed or the future raced away from. Very sprintily. Well, bugger me. Boys, the past was pretty feckin' righteous, tis from 1989, oh maybe 1990 if we get kharmic kisses for leniency, you gotta be gettin' the funk out of. After Ozzy does his usual semi-semblance of regurgitated scarecrow croon about ego-evil and vague world woes atop a polite chug on Crucify The Dead (fact is - you can't y'see) that are as useful as Jagger at Altamont, Fergie crops up on the alarmingly-reminiscent-of-Alanis-Morrisette's You Oughta Know that is Beautiful Dangerous. At least she strides up to the title like a T-REX hunted by a hippo-horny Rudi Ray Moore such that the structure wee's itself all the way home whilst simultaneously sticking withered week-old chewing gum in WAxl's dreads as she delves into a belting impression of the on the chorus. Myles Kennedy (whoever he is but he's the touring vocalist) wades in with one of the better moments on Back To Cali, all Sunset Boulevard gone slightly psych.
If these signal that this is stranded in the mid-nineties in both song and sound as it is, it at least retains some weight from their rock pedigree (well, besides Chris Cornell's Promise - a drifting redolent of bewilderingly-adored Aussie irritants Crowded House). Lemmy appears on Doctor Alibi - a rowdy party stomp along the lines of Born To Raise Hell that was probably written during a fag break in the car park and the better for it (interestingly, the wet-ones Gotten is jettisoned straight after); the sci-fi tinged instrumental Watch This lifts-off Iggy does a delightfully sardonic and droll Bowie impression on We're All Gonna Die (which, what with all this cross-referencing of modern with the future and wrapping them both round a post of the past ends up sounding like fkn Robbie Williams at his unfathomable height. Though, it need so much aural antacid after if you keep in mind U.S. Bombs) and it's roll-call of asinine yet apposite urgings, interspersing 'so let's be nice' & 'pee on the ground - jump around' between the titular incantation. Nothing To Say, is a Wildhearts / QOTSA style metal-smelting mellifluous that shoves Velvet Revolver into black leather holster is transcendent stand-out and worth a burn. Giving the lie to previous insistence that GN'R's descent into tepid epic-land was purely Waxl and his Princess Diana-like drive to eradicate divisions and embrace diversity for all the worlds to follow, notably by adopting Elton John as his token gay mate (presumably his piano-playing skills made him not-quite-so deficient) and the ballads here simper in the bottom of Bono's briefcase-cum-Bible, devoid of any admirable histrionics and temperamental audacit that gave GNR's pomp some curiosity and character. I Hold On - courtesy of Kid Rock, who actually does a fair duck sauce outta the dead pigeon lyrical slug-trails ('I feel no comfort in my dreams / Unprotected silent screams / The light beyond your shadow beams / Still I don't know what it means') - drives up oil prices in it's endless toil to dig downhome but pretty much turfs up eighties gel-buckets Then Jericho if they'd reformed in 1995 after hearing this new band that's all the rage, Pearl Jam, spicing things up with gormless gospel tinges and sourceless bilge about holding on because you can't let go and the seas of change and hey, presto, Eric Clapton's the next in line.

It's a little sad to have him just slip so easily onto the 'who done it?' shelves (as in 'Who's done this? oh, they did?...buuut hang, on they did that? so, howwww... - adopt a 'does not compute' air around this stage) of all the drivetime hold-music purveyors who qualify to pally-up on Backslap Boulevard, that seems to exist on social strata rather than musical opinions. So, not of no interest, just curiously uninvolving, lacking character and reeking of formula right up to the lighters aloft, wave your hands while I over emote about stars in the night, that is Starlight, that would be lucky to excite Pauls McFarteney or Rogers. Despite the slander it's difficult to dislike, but that's because the truest thing on it is how steadfastly stuck it is to the old cliche (pun intended) that it's hard to care for or detest as it's so bland. What's next? Coldplay? There's only a couple of true horrors but it cries out for some friction, tension and thrill.
Sure, things change n' people change n' my mind still gets hazy. Disappointment doesn't come from harking back and comparing this to 1987-1989. Sure, we ain't gonna look to Slash for a DESERT SESSIONS or even the mangy maverickness of a Jack White but it's slightly startling to see, and reappraise, how quickly any angular chinks in the array were really acquiesced in true punk style, as sagely assessed by Tyla in The Dogs D'Amour's pithy Victims Of Success. Slash is almost encroaching on Clapton's vast estates of stockbroker rock and makes The Stones seem unstoppably edgy. Such that it would be no shock to find or Bono on the next one. One could find it odd that Izzy isn't included on the ballad-bloated moments - they been something he excels in. But Izzy's already proved where there genius lay. Some bits here are identical to the chart fodder back when the guitarist as a young man really did Slash n' awe. Now it's more Slash aaahaaaah. Another slung on the gatepost of missed chances and lacklustre could-a-beens that started with GN'R LIES, and that really started on the USE YOUR ILLUSION. Slash lost his somewhere. It's there to be rediscovered.
Stu Gibson
PS - For a jolly little sojourn in the alleys of all-star - or slight singes from one that passed - search out the caustic queasy derectifying putrid plundering of BUTCHERING THE BEATLES, where old metal lags knacker the Scouse catalogue with pleasingly pitiless aplomb - featuring Yngwie, Dokken dudes, Dio, Lemmy, Ripper Owens, probably a BulletBoy (in disguise), quite possibly Vinne Vincent & others lower on the ladder like Cinderella's original drummer. There's similar projects on Iron Maiden and AC/DC but these are far less entertaining, as any covers of them are destined for scorn.
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