Suzi Quatro – “Suzi Quatro”

Suzi Quatro is another of those “I’ve heard of her but never listened to her” artists. Which is a bit surprising, because I always liked Joan Jett, and the two have a bit in common as quasi solo performing female rockers (yes, Joan Jett had the Blackhearts… but it was still JOAN JETT & The Blackhearts, really). But Suzi’s peak was a bit before my musical time, charting her biggest hits in the early 1970s and with only a few rock releases in the early 80s, whereas Jett had her big hit (“I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”) in 1982, and her sort of comeback Top 10 song (“I Hate Myself For Lovin’ You”) in 1988, both of which were more in my zone, as it were. But listening to 1973s Suzi Quatro a couple of times today, there’s no doubt that Quatro was an influence on Jett at some level.

One thing struck me right away about this record was the number of songs on it not written by Quatro – six of the eleven tracks have authorship outside Suzi and her band. Producers/songwriters Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn contributed three songs, including the pair of Top 3 UK hits “48 Crash” (#3) and “Can The Can” (#1), and the album also includes works by Elvis (“All Shook Up”), Johnny Kidd (“Shakin’ All Over”), and Lennon-McCartney (“I Wanna Be Your Man,” previously recorded by the Stones and the Beatles). Oddly, to my ears the non-chart topping Chapman & Chinn song “Primitive Love” is the best part of the album, with its sort of jungle-like rhythm, and an honorable mention goes to the Elvis cover. Quatro’s best penned work is “Skin Tight Skin,” a solid rocker.

It’s interesting to me that Quatro had a number of songs written for her, as well as a number of covers, on her debut. The same was true of Jett seven years later, with her self titled release including a few songs written together by Gary Glitter and Mike Leander, as well as covers like the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” and even “Wooly Bully.” It’s probably the case of not trusting a couple of young performers to write all their own material, and like Quatro, Jett’s first big singles were written by others – “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Merrill & Hooker, and “Crimson & Clover” by James & Lucia. I even see parallels in the ways the two dressed, going with the leather jacket and jeans look, and even similar hair styles.

Suzi Quatro is some good, old fashioned, straight forward rock ‘n’ roll. Quatro’s voice seems a little strained to me at times, as if she’s really pushing it hard and hitting what may be a higher register than her normal singing voice, reminding me more than a little of Sarolta Zalatnay, though the later doesn’t spend nearly as much time singing so high. I’m not quite sure these are “eleven hot and heavy non-stop tunes” as is touted on the jacket, but in the end it all works pretty well and there are some enjoyable numbers.

The Band – “The Last Waltz”

The Band was a group of musicians who were pretty well-known for being the backing band for some popular performers, most notably Bob Dylan, who also put out stuff on their own. You probably know them best for the song “Up On Cripple Creek” if you’re of a certain age or listen to classic rock radio. The Last Waltz is a live triple album from what was supposed to be their last ever show (before they, of course, reformed and toured again…) and was also made into a movie directed by Martin Scorsese. While the show took place in late 1976, it was about a year and a half before the album and movie made it to the public.

The band did their “final” blowout in style, inviting a host of amazing musicians to join them – Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, Neil Young… and plenty more folks you’ve heard of too. It’s an all-star cast, and it shows. Diamond’s “Dry Your Eyes” is my favorite, followed closely by Waters’ blues classic “Mannish Boy,” Young and “backing” vocalist Joni Mitchell pairing up on “Helpless,” and Van Morrison’s “Caravan.” You just can’t go wrong when you’re surrounded by so much talent… and the members of The Band are no musical slouches themselves, as is evident by the fantastic music.

I have the 2013 re-release version, which comes with a nice booklet insert and is well packaged. Somewhere along the way I seem to be missing record number three though… I swear it was in there… so I’m guessing I probably shoved it into another jacket by mistake. Hopefully it will turn up at some point, because I’d really like to hear “I Shall Be Released,” with pretty much everyone and their brother coming onto the stage to do backing vocals. I hope I didn’t accidentally throw it away with all the assorted packaging on the day I was going through a bunch of stuff. <sigh> Such is life….

Lou Champagne System – “No Visible Means”

Television – Ha Ha Ha Ha
Psychopathic thoughts inside your mind,

Free another’s soul you find,
The television’s on, the television’s on…
— “Don’t Say I’m Here”

Whoa! Wait, what??

So begins your immersion into the Lou Champagne System.

So what the hell is a Lou Champagne System? Well, let’s go to the album insert:

The Lou Champagne System is a real time guitar synth solo act that uses a special guitar and hookup invented by Lou. It allows him to play guitar and sound like a whole band with no tapes!

Well dang.

No Visible Means was originally released back in 1982, when synths were all the rage, and even Lou’s cover photo is spot on for the time. The copy I have is actually the re-release put out by Seattle’s own Medical Records label in 2011. I almost bought this record a while ago but didn’t pull the trigger, instead getting the label’s re-release of Gina X Performance’s Nice Mover, and I love the type of stuff they’re putting out – lots of 80s synthy poppy dark weirdness. Medical puts out a fantastic quality product, and in the case of Lou Champagne that means a nice thick jacket, the insert, and a record on heavy white vinyl (limited release of 1,000 copies… mine is a slightly smudged #0038). Oddly I came across the copy I ended up buying at a used shop in Philly, a still-sealed copy in with their used new arrivals. Huh. Go figure. Someone else’s loss was my gain.

So what about it? Well, it’s fantastic, that’s what. Lou creates some heavy, somewhat dark, dystopianly futuristic (or at least what we thought of as distopianly futuristic in 1982) soundscapes, and his vocals… his vocals… this is stuff that feels like it should have been in Blade Runner or even the Max Headroom TV series. The opening track, “Don’t Say I’m Here,” is kind of like being in an insane person’s mind, and the lyric sheet even breaks down the lyrics into sections labelled “Fred” and “Narrator,” making it like a crazy one man play. Things move in a more new wave type direction after that, especially on “Broken Hearts” and “Another Dimension,” the later of which does a lot to display Champagne’s guitar work, which is quite good – he knows when and how to use it, more as a support tool for the synths that drive the song.

Side B opens with Lou’s most punk rock number, “Do Something,” with it’s more aggressive vocal style including a bit of German to open it. The music on this is more driving, though the beats and bass are still all electronic, while the guitar playing is very hard rock. “Invisible Prisons” is something like you’d expect to hear on a metal album, that one random song late 70s/early 80s metal bands seemed to sometimes include that was more trippy than heavy, a chance to use more electronic instrumentation. As for “Machine Muzik”… just wow. Is this some kind of early industrial electronica, with its sections of twisted, modulated, bizarro vocals? I don’t know, but it’s pretty crazy.

I’m all about No Visible Means right now. I’ve played it a half dozen times or so over the last two weeks, and I’ve been putting off writing about it until I felt like I had a better handle on it. And I do, but I don’t. There’s a lot of depth here, and I get something a bit different out if it every time I listen. It’s definitely going to get more plays, and Medical Records is definitely going to get more of my money as I explore their catalog more fully. You can order it through them right now for just $16. And yes, you can even get it on iTunes, so go listen to it and go with the format of your choice. So go get one, dammit!

Þeyr – “Lunaire”

I’ve written about Þeyr before, and I’d pretty much put them up against anyone other than maybe Purrkur Pillnikk as being the most important band in Icelandic music. Yeah, yeah, I l know… The Sugarcubes, Björk, Sigur Rós… yada yada yada. All great. And Björk’s pre-Sugarcubes band Tappi Tíkarrass would get strong consideration and probably be part of my “Icelandic Holy Trinity.” Because these are the bands that helped that scene turn the corner to become the amazing community that it is today. And they deserve to be celebrated. Because they still sound awesome 30+ years later.

Lunaire was Þeyr’s swan song, their last release, a three song 7″ that came out in 1983. I’ve been coveting this for a while and finally found a nice copy for a good price on Discogs, and I couldn’t be happier. “The Walk” has that indescribable but instantly recognizable weird Þeyr sound/timing in the music, a borderline experimental piece but one that fits in well with much of their catalog. “Positive Affirmation” more fully embraces the core post-punk sound, with the moody Joy Division-esque vocals and hauntingly relentless beat. It doesn’t let up, just keeps chipping away at you with it’s creepy consistency and deep echoey singing, with just the occasional burst of guitar to give you any sense of breaking free. Then you flip it over and find that the band played a dirty trick on you – the two songs on one side play at 33 1/3, while the other side is at 45 rpm. Bastards! But that song, “Lunaire,” is possibly the greatest departure the band made from its “sound,” a raw, raspy, underproduced bundle of pure energy and insanity and emotion and angst. Whereas “Positive Affirmation” was methodically relentless, “Lunaire” makes you anxious with it’s drive, getting the heart rate up and and making you uncomfortable in sitting still.

It’s a bummer that Þeyr’s production was so limited – they’re entire output was less than 40 songs between 1980-83. I guess that’s a decent number, but man I would like for there to be one more album worth of stuff. It just wasn’t meant to be though, and I’m grateful for what we have.

“Fast Product Mutant Pop 78/79” Compilation

Sometimes you need to pull the trigger on a record when you come across it. Other times you need to wait, because eventually you’ll probably find it somewhere else either cheaper or in better condition. The trick, of course, is knowing which to do when faced with a record purchasing dilemma. I’ve seen copies of Fast Product Mutant Pop 78/79 in two different local shops, and probably had it in my hands a half a dozen times, but never pulled the trigger since the prices just seemed way too high. And then I ran across it again, this time in New Jersey. For way cheaper. And I bought it. So I won this round.

There are six bands on this label comp released in 1980, and I’d heard of three of them – The Mekons, The Human League, and Gang of Four. The roster is rounded out by 2-3, Scars, and Flowers, and each band contributes either two or three songs. The style is punk evolving into post-punk. The Mekons’ efforts are certainly sneering, jeering, stilted punk rock with lots of attitude, which I kind of expected. But what I didn’t expect were the two songs contributed by The Human League. Sure, we all know them best for “Don’t You Want Me” and “Fascination,” but that sounds like a totally different band than the one on this record. “Being Boiled” and “Circus of Death” were songs from their original demo, and they’re sort of early dark synth-wave, more new wavish than say Joy Division, but certainly deeper, slower paced numbers, much more minimal than they’re full-fledged new wave numbers from just a year or two later. “Circus of Death” in particular is bizarre, including a full blown introduction, with no music, that describes what the song is about… and then it gets truly weird, and I do mean seriously weird, with music and sound effects. But I think I like it. Definitely the best two tunes on the comp.

2-3 sound really good…. like a mix between Radio Birdman and U2, if you can believe that. The Flowers were also a pleasant surprise, with some real oddball post-punk (We’ll get you like a case of anthrax… and that’s something I don’t wanna catch…), that has delivery like Ian Dury doing Oi! songs.

This is one of the better comps I’ve come across in a while… and I can’t tell you how much happier I am having bought it for around $10 as opposed to the $30+ I’ve seen it for.