“The Heartbreakers blew everyone away, for no more reason than that they were just more experienced — they had their roots in R&B and rock ‘n’ roll. They were able to go onstage and draw on all that, whereas these kids (The Damned, Clash, and Sex Pistols) couldn’t draw on anything yet. Real rock ‘n’ roll would start to happen and there’s no fighting that, no getting around that. No matter how anarchic an audience thinks it is, if the bass player can actually play bass, and the drummer is Jerry Nolan, then suddenly they’re going, ‘THIS IS GREAT!'”
–Leee Childers, Heartbreakers manager on the 1977 Anarchy tour of England, quoted in Please Kill Me, p. 323
1. Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers – Baby Talk
L.A.M.F.: The Lost Mixes, 1977/1994
Jerry Nolan is the MF in this LAMF classic. His machine gun drum attack was the secret weapon in both the New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers and he’s the boot in the ass of “Baby Talk.” He hurtles the song forward, challenging the HBs to keep up, which they do. Meanwhile, Thunders and Walter Lure trade riffs, with Johnny unleashing a tight, economical solo from 1:35-1:47.
Former bandmate, Richard Hell (pictured above on bass and vocals), on the distinctive elements of the Thunders guitar style:
- The way it sounds sarcastic, the drawn-out bent-off notes
- Piercing tone
- The sneering throwaway monster-chord fuck-you noises he tended to end songs with
Most write-ups on Johnny Thunders go something like, “Junkie, drugs, Dolls, smack, Heartbreakers, OD, dead.” Not that any of that is untrue, mind you, but the guy was a ferocious guitar player, a pretty solid songwriter when he wanted to be, and at his 1972-78 peak, the critical link between Chuck Berry and Keith Richards on one side and Billy Zoom and Bob Stinson on the other.
I could’ve taken the easy way out and lobbed up “Johnny’s Gonna Die,” but “Customer” is the early Mats at their Heartbreaking best. This is largely due to Smokin’ (and Drinkin) Bob Stinson’s incandescent guitar squall. Much is made of Bob’s debt to Steve Howe … both the Yes guitarist and the drug-addled Dodger/Yankee relief pitcher whose career began with such promise in 1980-81 … but here he sounds more like a punk rock Danny Gatton.
“Bob’s lead is hotter than a urinary tract infection.”
–Sorry Ma liner notes, 1981
Paul Westerberg‘s vocal is as good as he ever got and how locked in was the rhythm section of 20 year old drummer, Chris Mars, and 9 year old (or thereabouts) bassist and child labor counter-revolutionary, Tommy Stinson? None more locked. Here’s the band in what some might consider their artistic peak.
Replacements – Customer
7th Street Entry, Minneapolis, MN
September 5, 1981
“I was on YouTube a few months back [in 2007] and stumbled upon some early ’80s, punk-phase ‘Mats footage from the Entry. It was so unexpected that for the first time it was as if I could objectively see what our appeal was from an audience standpoint. There this band was as if I were watching ghosts through some hazed and distant memory. With this newly acquired objectivity, though decades of distance, what struck me most was Paul’s distinct voice and delivery, along with Bob’s insane guitar style and stage presence. Whoever those other two guys were, they glued it all together well enough. It occurred to me that our strength was a damned good little punk band. In my mind, that could quite possibly have been our peak.”
–Chris Mars, quoted in Jim Walsh’s All Over But The Shouting, p. 259
3. Humpers – Apocalypse Girl
Live Forever Or Die Trying, 1996
4. Neckbones – Cardiac Suture
The Lights Are Getting Dim, 1999
Two of my favorite bands from the mid-to-late ’90s, up to their respective elbows in Thunders. “Apocalypse Girl” is a fist-pumping, beer-spilling anthem and I’m not just saying that because I used to pump said fist and spill said beer while watching The Humpers deliver the goods at Spaceland and The Foothill Club.
As for my beloved Neckbones, “Cardiac Suture” is a full-on, scuzz-rock riffgasm that’s two parts Ramones (verses) and one part Rocket From The Crypt (chorus). As bassist, Robbie Alexander, and drummer, Forrest Hewes, hold down the big bottom, Tyler Keith and Dave Boyer double the main riff on guitar. Meanwhile, special guest, Jack Oblivian (née Yarber), triples that riff on sax and all three men cut loose during the chorus, “It’s the way you cut/It’s the way you stitch/I’ve got a new future/Since my cardiac suture.” Smoke ’em if you got ’em.
“Richie Dagger” sounds like a spastic blend of the Heartbreakers (“One Track Mind”) and X (“Sex And Dying In High Society”), with Pat Smear (guitar), Lorna Doom (bass), and Don Bolles (drums) going in three different directions to the same flophouse. But hey, it works. Smear, in particular, is a revelation with his classic intro, jagged playing in the verses, and from 1:12-1:30 (“He could set your mind ablaze/With sparkling eyes and visionary case”) seemingly channeling John Fogerty‘s spacey guitar sound from Creedence’s debut.
However, the guitarist that Pat credited as his biggest influence on this song was none other than Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Go’s. Smear said of Caffey (in an interview that has sadly gone MIA from the Googlenet), “She is a great rhythm guitarist and I think she’s also responsible for making punk rock melodic … through the guitar playing. In fact, I copied her rhythm style on ‘Richie Dagger’s Crime.’ She uses all downstrokes. I’m always working on my downstroke. It really makes a difference. At the beginning of a tour, I can’t play that way all the time because I’m so out of shape. But by the end of the tour, it’s all downstrokes.”
6. X – Under The Big Black Sun
Under The Big Black Sun, 1982
As far as I’m concerned, X is the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll band to ever come out of Los Angeles and I’m not sure it’s all that close. They were/are the perfect combination of pure balls, poetry, showmanship, and artistic discipline, taking all that was good about ’50s and ’60s music and marrying it to the energy and economy of punk. This is what it sounds like when a band is talented enough to marry Chuck Berry (thanks to perennially cool badass, Billy Zoom), Plastic Ono Band, and The Ramones.
X – Johnny Hit And Run Paulene
7. New York Dolls – Personality Crisis
New York Dolls, 1972
“The Dolls were for New York groups sort of what the Sex Pistols were for British groups. They excited everybody by being flawless: in it for fun, never pretentious or pretending to be anything they weren’t; they were ballsy, noisy, tough, funny, sharp, young, and real. Stupid and ill. They mocked the media, threw up on grownups, and kidded with the kids in a language of drugs and sex.”
–Richard Hell, “Johnny Thunders and the Endless Party” [postmortem essay]
What did Hell leave out? How about …
- David Johansen‘s epic “howlin’ at the moon” vocalics (both lead and background)
- Johnny Thunders (panned right) and Sylvain Sylvain trading sweet guitar riffs
- Thunders’ harmony vocal all pinched, Keefy, and fucking perfect
- Sylvain’s underrated boogie-woogie piano (mostly panned left)
- “And you’re a prima ballerina on a spring afternoon!” [insert whistle part]
- Arthur Kane and especially Jerry Nolan as the lockdown rhythm section
8. Rolling Stones – Rip This Joint
Exile On Main Street, 1972
“Wham, bam, Birmingham,
Alabam don’t give a damn,
Little Rock and I’m fit to top,
Ahhhh!!!! Let it rock!!!”
This song is dedicated to the denizen’s of Little Rock’s Whitewater Tavern and the This is American Music wrecking crew … somewhat ironic considering this is my lone non-American entry. Regardless, “Joint” features one of Mick Jagger‘s greatest vocal performances, perfect Keith harmony, stinging Richards/Mick Taylor guitar (I know, shocking), Nicky Hopkins paying homage to Johnnie Johnson, some guy named Bill Plummer on standup bass, Jim Price on trumpet and trombone, and a furious Bobby Keys sax solo that would’ve fit in perfectly on many a Specialty session from the late ’50s. Pure gold.
9. Chuck Berry – Roll Over Beethoven (Intro)
10. Chuck Berry – Roll Over Beethoven solo (1:19-1:33)
Chuck Berry, of course, is rock ‘n’ roll ground zero. The DNA begins here. Sure, T-Bone Walker was a gigantic influence and Carl Hogan’s intro to Louis Jordan‘s 1946 hit “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman” clearly presages the CB sauce. But, Chuck brought those guitar figures into a new era and of this there is little debate. If we isolate the intro and solo to “Roll Over Beethoven,” what we hear is pretty much lead guitar compulsories for the next 30 years (roughly 1955-85). It was fully absorbed and mutated not just by the people on this playlist, but Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, The Beatles, Who, Kinks, MC5, AC/DC, Sex Pistols, Dead Boys, Eddie Van Halen, Dave Alvin, Dave Hidalgo, everybody, and their mother. Yeah, not a bad resume.
11. Don & Dewey – Jungle Hop
I could’ve gone with Little Richard here and did so originally. But, being a fan of the deep cut, I opted for this obscure Los Angeles duo. A huge inspiration to The Blasters, this is down-home, funky-ass R&B at its best. I can’t describe them any better than Jonny Whiteside, who described them thusly in the LA Weekly:
“The Don & Dewey mix of heat, jive and unadulterated talent was a shock in its day. Not yet 21 when they started on Specialty, these cats were upstarts, hardcore; they not only wrote, played and produced all their songs, they both flat-out Screamed Into The Microphone. When they weren’t hollering, they spoke in wildly poetic, almost indecipherable tongues (langga langga oli-oki changa-chang). They did the jungle hop with the beeb-a-lee bop, mammer-jammered at the hootenanner and got clean for their mama’s papa’s sister’s brother’s uncle’s crazy child — the one with the champagne eyes. They did it all, leaping from slam to simmer on perfectly vocalized close-harmony ballads that anticipated the glories of mid-’60s soul with blueprint accuracy.”
–Jonny Whiteside, LA Weekly, May 26, 1999
12. Creedence – Travelin’ Band
Cosmo’s Factory, 1970
America’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band celebrates life on the road with some Little Richard-inspired badassery. Fogerty delivers his usual banshee howl, offers up searing guitar work (listen close and Thunders ain’t far away), and even contributes the sax part. I guess the glockenspiel and Turkish gong were in the shop.
13. Sonics – Psycho
Here Are The Sonics, 1965
The Sonics have been called the first punk rock band and I’m not sure we should dispute this claim. Sure, The Velvet Underground, Stooges, and MC5 were more temperamentally simpatico with what became punk in the mid-’70s, but if you don’t think Gerry Roslie can trade punches with those mofos, you’re crazy. Keep in mind, this is 19-goddamn-65! Roslie’s scream is on par with Fogerty, Larry Parypa’s lead guitar is downright nasty, and how can you not love Bob Bennett’s drum fills? Do they even make punk rock bands like this anymore? If so, how about giving me a heads up?
14. Black Keys – Have Love Will Travel
The Moan EP, 2004
Will the circle be unbroken? I think not. The Black Keys cover The Sonics and in doing so, establish one of the more recent links in the true rock ‘n’ roll DNA lineage. The BKs have since added a schmoove Curtis Mayfield/Prince/hip-hop sensibility, but this is pretty much the blues-based rock ‘n’ roll with which they began their career.
For those of you with iPods, iBlackberries, and iWalkmen, you can download this 14-track set as a complete unit.
The Adios Lounge Presents: LAMF (50 MB)