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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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