The British Invasion Goes Candyass

13 May

I swear: the early/mid 80’s was a tough time to be an American kid just getting up to speed with BRITISH ALBUM-ORIENTED ROCK.

You certainly had older siblings/babysitters spinning Hot Rocks and Hooligans to death around you, so you knew all the warhorse-hits by heart. The bands themselves – THE STONES, THE WHO, THE KINKS et al. – were still up there in the stratosphere, recording/touring like there was no tomorrow. You longed to see ’em do their thing live, get in on a bit of that old rockin’ black magic. Maybe, just maybe – you had a parent hip enough to take you to one of their stadium shows. Except . . . something just wasn’t right anymore.

Mick went disco, and then Caribbean; Keith adopted what a buddy of mine called “his toy-guitar sound”. Daltrey cut his hair and started dressing just like David Hasselhoff on Knight Rider. And while THE KINKS showed a bit a promise in the early, new wave-y days, they eventually lost their drummer and settled for a fucking drum machine. 1, 2, 3 – the idols were toppled. And we were paying inflated scalped-ticket prices to witness it.

Go back and spin these records too. I dare you.

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THE ROLLING STONES- Still Life (American Concert 1981) LP, 1982
It: This live record is as flimsy a STONES record as you’re gonna find. The Jagger/Richards shuck n jive is slathered on thick n greasy, but the performances sound hurried, the guitar runs tired, and the NY saxophones just plain awful. And who thought doing the National Anthem was a good idea? Listen hard enough and you just about hear the casket finally slamming shut on the glory days of 70’s big bad arena rock shows.

Me: The ’81 Tattoo You North American Tour was the first rock event I remember hearing much about, primarily since every surfer dude in my neighborhood yammered on about it to no end at the time. I was too young to go, but the shows in SoCal (Oct. ’81, LA Memorial Coliseum) are infamous due to the fact that PRINCE, the third of 3 opening acts – the others being J. GEILS BAND and GEORGE THOROGOOD & THE DELAWARE DESTROYERS – had to flee the stage after getting booed and pelted with trash from uptight rock fans. Though according to one surfer guy I knew, I didn’t miss much: “shit man, Thorogood blew THE STONES right off the stage!”

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THE WHO – It’s Hard LP, 1982
It: I admit that I find even good, rockin’ records by THE WHO kinda pompous/heavyhanded. Ya know: shutup Roger and just ROCK whydontcha guys. But this, the last “real” WHO record, is damn near totally consumed by a-bunch-of-somebody’s efforts to be really, really meaningful. There’s alot of Daltrey over-emoting here, lots of compact Townsend riffage. But there’s not an ounce of sponteneity anywhere in sight, the sound feels shackled to the post-production staff, and it all comes across like a big steaming pile of corporate dogshit. As good a reason as any in the early 80’s to swear off major-label product for fucking ever.

Me: We got our folks to pay for us to watch a show from this “farewell” tour on SELECT TV (an early SoCal pay-TV service), and my brother brought a bunch of guys over who’d normally not have the time of day for folks like him. But hey, THE WHO were a big deal then, so they condescended. We got amped up on Pop Rocks and Dr. Pepper, but when they started into “Athena” – man, what a major comedown. And when big-nosed Pete summoned up enough energy to start windmilling . . . well, even a 12 year-old like myself could spot money-grubbing shtick when I saw it.

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THE KINKS – Word of Mouth LP, 1984
It: I kinda liked the hit (“Do It Again”) at the time, but the record is a mess. Ray sounds uninterested, almost bored on this thing. It’s yr typical going-through-the-motions 80’s record that all these mega-rock stars were allowed to make back then. A grotesque money-waste of a project, if ever their was one. I’m actually getting a little queasy just listening back on this stuff again.

Me: I saw ‘em play as a young teen on this tour, at the LA Sports Arena. I kinda/sorta remember they did play that “Paranoia, D-Destroyer” song, which I was waiting for as it had been a fave of mine since I was an even-younger kid. No offense to the Davies bros. (guys I love you both dearly) but it was a totally mediocre/unmemorable concert. As if they don’t have enough great songs, they inexplicably played “You Really Got Me” twice – and then, played the first few bars AGAIN at the beginning of the final encore. I guess they thought they needed to keep it simple for American audiences. In fact THE BLASTERS, who opened, were way more exciting/alive, and I ain’t no big BLASTERS fan no how.

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ERIC CLAPTON – Behind the Sun LP, 1985
It: Upwardly-mobile lifestyle blues of a particularly soul-less type. Eric was clean/sober by this point, and already he was pandering to the yuppie element in his audience who wanted their blues whitewashed. It was ugly to see and uglier still to listen to. The hits (“Forever Man” and “She’s Waiting”) were lifeless turds rendered by hack studio musicians, while the ultrasmooth sound he coaxed outta that Blackie strat of his already smacked of product placement. It was only a matter of time before it/he started turning up on car commercials.

Me: That said, he did put on a decent show at the Universal Amphitheatre on this tour (or so I thought at the time). It was impressive watching someone play so fluidly/effortlessly as Clapton could still, live/in real time. Plus: it was the first time I made the connection that that funny-smelling peppery smoke wafting around was actually pot. Me, I grew up kinda sheltered.

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THE PRETTY THINGS – Cross Talk LP, 1980
It: The best of the lot, although I admit that’s not saying much. You’re gonna laugh when you hear Phil May singing tales of workplace romance while aping vocal moves then associated with Elvis Costello and (gasp!) Sting of THE POLICE. But hey this was their last shot at the big time, and they went for it, all canons firing. Nobody much paid attention, but at least the tunes are strong and this record has energy to spare (for a bunch of hippy burnouts). I admit I listen to it alot more than any of their 70’s recs, so there ya go.

Me: Didn’t hear this record until very recently. However, as a little kid I stumbled upon THE PRETTY THINGS in the early 80’s omnibus horror flick The Monster Club, via SoCal Channel 11’s Movie Macabre TV show (hosted by the mighty ELVIRA). THE PRETTIES can be seen performing the horror-rockin’ title track, “Monster Club” towards the end of the film – it’s real silly but cool just the same. Now why didn’t somebody think to tack that dub/new wave collision on to the Cross Talk reissue? It woulda fit right in.

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8 Responses to “The British Invasion Goes Candyass”

  1. Dave Lang May 14, 2007 at 12:26 am #

    Ha! This is a GREAT piece! For my two cents, the worst thing the ‘Stones ever did was Dirty Work from ’86: the cover alone – complete w/ pastel suits – tells the story of the music within. Frankly, I don’t dig any post ’69 Stones at all, and the same goes for the Who. When I was working at Borders(!!) about 7 years back I was trying to educate a young female colleague of mine on “classic rock”, so I played her “Who’s Next”. She crunched her face up and said, “Yeeeuch! This sounds like Meat Loaf”. I had to admit defeat: she was right. Solo Eric Clapton is the lamest music ever recorded: any period, any song, the guy blows donkeys. Yuppified white-bread “blues” for SUV drivers.

  2. mrowster May 14, 2007 at 6:48 pm #

    I have come to agree with you about solo Clapton. Solo Clapton = solo shit.

    The thing is: to a kid, it’s all new. You don’t have the historical context/perspective, you don’t know any better. So maybe THE WHO always kinda sounded like MEAT LOAF and real rock stars everywhere dressed in Miami Vice suits? It took me years to figure all that stuff out.

  3. Bob May 18, 2007 at 7:16 pm #

    A couple of minor corrections then on to some juicy comments. First, regarding The Who, it’s “Townshend” not “Townsend”.

    Second, the Elvira show was on the old KHJ Channel 9 (now KCAL and owned by CBS).

    The Stones: For some reason I never got into these blokes. I’m not sure why, I didn’t consciously avoid them it just worked out so. I had a friend who swore by the first volume of “Hot Rocks” (the one with the superimposed silhouettes or the band members’ heads on it). With tunes like “Ruby Tuesday”, “Get Off of My Cloud”, “Paint it Black”, and “Under My Thumb” I can see why. Having not followed their career at all I’m not sure if it was 1969 when they began gathering moss or not, but surely by the time Bill Wyman began incorporating that awful disco octave bass line (boo dup boo dup boo boo dup boo) into most of their songs it had been over for a long time already.

    The Who: Couldn’t agree with you more. “It’s Hard” as in to listen to! The boys have always been plagued by a certain amount of gimmickiness and so a lot of their records are uneven affairs. I’ve never been a big fan of “Tommy” but even the wonderful “Sell Out” LP begins running out of steam by side two, even they can’t keep the pretense up (or at least write enough “on topic” material). I have about zero interest in anything past “Quadrophenia” (1973) except for maybe a few selected tracks off of “Who Are You”. All else belongs on the dung pile. As for The Who sounding like Meatloaf, it is most definitely the other way around. But that comment definitely made me laugh my ass off, chiefly because I never made that connection before. So sad, my onetime heroes dethroned! As for your pay TV The Who experience, wasn’t that their “Last North American Tour” tour? Oh god, if that really had been their last North American tour the world would be a better place. (And what’s up with these bands and their “North American” tours? I bet neither The Rolling Stones or The Who made any Mexican appearances on either of these tours!) Unfortunately we’ve been abused by half-baked “reunion” tours and special appearances numerous times in the interim. In 2000 they played at the Hollywood Bowl as a quartet (sans the ludicrous number of back up singers, horn sections, innumerable keyboardists, additional electric guitarists and lord knows what else) and I heard that they tried to draw some comparison to themselves to the last time they had been there in 66 or 67. Yeah, sure, right guys. Recently, my mother-in-law told me they (well, the two living members and their entourage) were playing out in Palm Springs or Indian Wells or Indio or some other godforsaken place like that and asked if I wanted to go. I’d rather drink a glass of my own urine!

    The Kinks: I’ve always held these fellows in high regard, but then again I’ve never ventured much beyond 1970 in their back catalog. I remember seeing the “Come Dancing” (or whatever it was called) video over and over in the 80s and being sickened by it. Has anyone in rock gotten more mileage out of nostalgia than Ray Davies? Recently, I rented a Kinks DVD that had a “You Really Got Me” era photo of the band on the cover. “Oh boy! This is gonna be good!” I said to myself as I popped it into the player. Fuck, I couldn’t have been more wrong. There were 11 live television performances, all from the mid to late 70s. What the fuck! Several of the performances consisted entirely of Ray by himself on acoustic guitar with his voice rarely if ever going above a whisper. This is The Kinks? Talk about false advertisement.

  4. mrowster May 18, 2007 at 8:21 pm #

    Your corrections are duly noted – I admit having a mental block against all things Pete, and you clearly wasted more time staring at the boobtube as a kid than I.

    I think that by the 80’s guys like the STONES/WHO/KINKS just got so out of touch with anything remotely relevant to young but music-hungry kids . . . I mean, here they are, marrying supermodels, buying castles, dining at Spago, spending summers in Montecarlo – while potential new fans are stuck in planned-community trackhome neighborhoods, trying not to get hassled for skateboarding, waiting for the bombs to fall. There was no longer any common ground, and that boomer generation ceased to represent anything but something to RUN THE FUCK AWAY from – unless you wanted to live the highlife totally vicariously (which was good enough for some of my friends, I suppose).

  5. JW May 19, 2007 at 7:59 am #

    Yes, yes. An excellent and astute post – as well as the comments by Bob.

    There are two words that still give me chills: EMINENCE FRONT. In a weaker moment in the past year, I read some of Pete Townshend’s blog (for which I hereby apologize to the world) and he was going on about how he really thinks that because he sells his entire friggin’ catalog to appear in hack commercials, that he’s gaining new and worthwhile audience members. I’m paraphrasing, but he said something like “It’s really opening up a new world for me ‘n Rog,” or some such crap. Sigh.

    Whereas Bob never got into the Stones, which I can definitely understand in many ways, I confess I must agree that I’ve never heard anything in Clapton. I mean, seriously, did Mattel market a white, bearded Blues Robot in 1972 or something? Seriously. Maybe it was Kenner? Tomy? Tyco? Somebody did.

  6. rico vanian May 21, 2007 at 2:18 pm #

    didn’t the stones all die in a car crash right after they recorded exile on main street? except keef, of course.

  7. mrowster May 21, 2007 at 10:08 pm #

    Rico:

    Yeah they’ve replaced the Stones with PUPPETS in concert ever since. All except Keith, as you’ve already pointed out – why use a puppet when you’ve got access to his actual CADAVER?

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