Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Suburban Voice blog #132


Here's another in the occasional series of my Maximum Rocknroll columns. This originally appeared in the October 2015 issue (#389)


PROTO-THIS ‘N THAT

My email inbox is clogged nearly every day by an abundance of music biz press releases, most of them from a small group of publicity companies. The releases usually provide a link to a digital “promo” for me to review. I wrote about this a few years ago, as part of an April Fools column in MRR, where I said I’d only be reviewing digital promos from that point forward and the email address to send them to would be whoneedsrecords@sonicoverload.net. It’s still an active address but, except for the occasional spam message, it’s pretty quiet. Some wiseass subscribed me to a “cougar” website. I’m much too old for any “cougar” to be interested in me. And I know many people are offended by the term so let’s just move on.

A couple of recent ones stick out. There was one pushing a cover of the Troggs’ “With A Girl Like You” by an artiste named William Alexander. There was a link to check out the song on a site called Culture Collide. As you can imagine, it wasn’t very good. Alexander does his damnedest to sound like the Troggs’ Reg Presley and comes up a bit short. The whole thing comes up short because there’s little chance any cover is going to capture the primitive gleefulness of that song. But the accompanying blurb caught my attention. It called “With A Girl Like You,” “perhaps the best Troggs song (and likely the only memorable one aside from "Wild Thing.”)” My immediate thought was, are you fucking kidding me? Only memorable songs? I left a comment on the page asking if the writer had actually listened to the Troggs. I emailed the publicist and told her the same thing and she replied and said, “off the record, I think you’re right.” I guess it’s not really off the record anymore but I doubt William Alexander or his handlers read this column.

Incidentally, if you do ever want to check out a rather, uh, unique cover of “Wild Thing,” look up Fancy’s 1974 version of it—it’s on YouTube. Fancy was basically a studio group who got together to do this song and they hired a Penthouse Pet named Helen Caunt (I am NOT making that up) to do the vocal—which was basically her whispering and grunting and groaning her way through it. They rearranged it into a minimalist, Gary Glitter-ish hand clapper with some choice synth and wah-wah guitar lines in the middle. After it proved to be a hit and an album was released. (I got it for my 15th birthday, along with ELP’s three record live opus Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends aka the album that never ends), Ms. Caunt—whose vocal performance wasn’t credited—had been replaced by Annie Kavanaugh (who appears on the album cover), an adequate belter but the songs, save the “Wild Thing” retread “Touch Me,” were forgettable. It’s still on my record shelf. The ELP record is long-gone.



The other press release was for a band who play "Proto-punk influenced post-punk." That makes absolutely no sense. I mean, using those genre terms is a reviewer crutch of which I am 100% guilty. The band, Dark Palms, actually sound more like the Stooges-meet-shoegazer rock, if I had to pin it down. It wasn’t that bad, honestly.

So it got me to pondering whether or not there was music you could call “proto-hardcore”—music that had speed and velocity and inspired hardcore but predated it. It’s arbitrary but I guess you could call something proto-hardcore if it came out before 1980, maybe even 1979. I know Black Flag started earlier than that but I don’t think “Nervous Breakdown” is really hardcore. A strong argument could be made for The Germs' 1979 (GI) album being one of the first pure hardcore albums.

The RutsThe Crack album came out in ’79 and features a few songs that have the speed of hardcore—“Society” and “Criminal Mind” pick up the pace a great deal. “Society” was also the b-side of their “Babylon’s Burning” single.



Punishment Of Luxury weren’t really a dyed-in-the-wool punk band, having come from more of a Roxy/Bowie/early Ultravox muse. But the b-side of their 1979 Secrets 7” is a different matter altogether—a fired-up ripper called “Brainbomb.” Pure explosiveness with an engaging “B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B, Brainbomb!” tagline and a wacked-out noisy mid-section before the pillaging resumes. Chaos UK covered it on their Chipping Sodbury Bonfire Tapes album.



There were other UK bands who inspired hardcore bands. “Disease,” from the UK Subs’ 1979 debut album A Different Kind Of Blues, had the requisite speed and SOA sped it up considerably for their cover on “Flex Your Head.’ Minor Threat covered Wire's “1 2 X U” on the same compilation. That came from Pink Flag and that song wasn’t really proto-hardcore but “Mr. Suit” sure as hell was. Another DC band, Second Wind, did that one on their Security album. 999’s “No Pity,” from 1977, has a near thrash beat, going along perfectly with Nick Cash’s cat-thrown-into-the-fire snarl.



One could make a convincing argument that the UK band who had the biggest influence on hardcore was The Damned. There are some pretty formidable bashers on their debut album Damned Damned Damned and their cover of The Stooges'’ “1970” (re-titled “I Feel Alright”) is non-stop bedlam. But it’s the title track of their third album, Machine Gun Etiquette (1979) that dishes out the speed and fury and “Love Song” isn’t far behind. Swiz covered “MGE” on one of their records. It makes sense that you see Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins and Keith Morris all singing the praises of the Damned in the Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead documentary (granted, they’re in EVERY music documentary but still...). By the way, the title comes from the lyrics of “Machine Gun Etiquette.”



The Middle Class' Out of Vogue EP came out in ’78 and the title track and “Insurgence” are relentless. They did gradually move into a post-punk relam (I know...) but those early recordings are certainly what one could call proto-hardcore.



Going back even further—and maybe stretching things a bit—Blue Öyster Cult's “The Red and The Black,” from their Tyranny and Mutation LP, has a pretty rapid tempo for 1973.The Minutemen liked it enough to cover it later on. Hell, I might give a nod to the rave-up (i.e. unhinged) part of the Count Five’s 1966 hit “Psychotic Reaction”—which sounded like a more up-tempo Yardbirds knock-off.



What about “I Got A Right” by Iggy & The Stooges? I once wrote a column about that, stating it was ahead-of-its-time punk rock and, given the upbeat arrangement, it does come close—and, of course, has been covered by a number of hardcore and punk bands over the years, but I don’t think I’d really call it proto-hardcore. It’s the same for the Belgian band Blast’s two song single “Damned Flame/Hope.” At the very least, it’s some pretty raw punk-sounding fodder for 1972 and has a similar feel as “I Got A Right,” in its Detroit punk predilection. It just got a legit reissue on the Death Vault label but it’s already sold out (and, of course, I snoozed and missed out). Yes, lines can get blurry but the bottom line is both of those records were pretty off-the-rails for that time period.



Maybe next time, I can do a column about proto-straight edge. Like “I’m Straight” by the Modern Lovers or the anti-drug “Kicks” by Paul Revere & The Raiders, written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, from 1966, with these inspiring lyrics: “Kicks just keep gettin' harder to find/And all your kicks ain't bringin' you peace of mind/Before you find out it's too late, girl/You better get straight.”



Maybe not... I should probably quit while I’m still ahead.