Nobody expected the 1983 motion picture BREAKIN’ to be a hit. At the time, breakdancing was quickly becoming a worldwide craze, rising from the urban neighborhoods and spilling into white-bread suburbia. Since Hollywood always loves to capitalize on current trends, TV commercials suddenly incorporated breakdancing and movies like BREAKIN’ and BEAT STREET (amongst others) were quickly put into production. BREAKIN’ was first out of the gate. The film was a commercial – and financial -success and was followed a year later by BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO. Highly entertaining some 35 years later, both films were light on plot and acting ability but heavy on music and fun. Regardless of how lightweight the films were, the soundtracks served up a healthy selection of R&B, Soul, and Funk music that was surprisingly light on the more dangerous sounds of Rap/Hip Hop. Regardless, the music introduced young movie goers to a sound and culture that they may not have experienced otherwise. The BREAKIN’ films were like extended versions of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video – every problem can be solved by a dance-off! And what is wrong with that?
Back in when I was a teenager, I thought I knew the difference between good and bad music. In my twisted late ‘70s teenage way of thinking, I thought that bands with skinny ties and Rickenbackers were the good guys and bands with moustaches and mullets were messengers of the devil. Yeah, like any 14 or 15 year old, I thought I had a clue. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I realized that I had been wrong about a lot of things – especially music. And since 1981, I’ve tried to make up for my discretions by choosing to search for the lost chord, investigating new artists and styles while revisiting the bands I once scoffed at. For example, I once thought that AOR (AKA Stadium Rock and/or Melodic Rock) was predictable and repetitious. I thought it was simply rock-by-numbers and that none of those bands could write an original song or riff to save their lives. But then, I took a hard look at the New Wave and Power Pop that I was listening to and realized that many of my favorite bands were at least partially guilty of the same thing. And then I looked at Country, Jazz, Folk and every other genre and was overwhelmed by the fact that what I had initially heard as derivative was actually just updating and carrying the music forward for a new generation. And with that breakthrough in my thought process, I was able to enjoy – and often love – bands like Journey, Foreigner, Survivor and REO Speedwagon. But don’t get me wrong – I’m still fully devoted to the Power Pop and New Wave I’ve loved since 1977. I just like to think that my tastes are much more varied than the casual music fan. OK, I’ll admit it – I’m a ‘music nerd’. Whatever that is…
Rockpile remains one of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s most respected but commercially overlooked bands. In terms of credibility, how could you go wrong with a band featuring Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams? While Rockpile recorded albums that were credited to either Edmunds or Lowe, they only recorded one proper studio album under their collective name – 1980’s SECONDS OF PLEASURE – before the band split up. Nick and Dave continued their successful solo careers while Terry joined Dire Straits. The band’s secret weapon – guitarist/vocalist Bremner – also pursued a solo career as well as working with The Pretenders (that’s him playing lead guitar on “Back On The Chain Gang”), Shakin’ Stevens, and many others. He did appear on Lowe and Edmunds’ solo albums as well. While not as high profile as his former bandmates, Bremner has released four solo albums over the years and worked with a multitude of other artists. Often overlooked on his own merits, the best of Billy’s solo material has finally been compiled on the excellent SINGLED OUT collection courtesy of RPM/Cherry Red.
Here in the U.S., veteran British Punk band The Vibrators are not held in the same high esteem as bands like The Clash, Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, and a few other of their contemporaries. And I must say that is an oversight that must be corrected. Is it because they were too British? Were they too raw? Did they challenge the listener with stylistic changes to their core sound? Were they too Pop to Punk purists? So many questions, so few answers…
If you’ve never heard Sailor, then I feel pretty confident that you’ve never heard a band quite like Sailor. One of the most unusual and original bands to emerge from the UK in the mid-‘70s, Sailor achieved great success in the UK, Holland and across Europe but never made much of a mark in the U.S. However, the band did attract the attention of American Rock and Pop legends like Bruce Johnston and Curt Boettcher (billed as Becher), both of whom produced their CHECKPOINT album. If you missed Sailor and their albums the first time around, 7Ts/Cherry Red Records is making it easy to catch up with a five CD set entitled SAILOR: THE ALBUMS 1974-78, a box that contains their first five albums including bonus tracks. Fans of band like 10cc, Deaf School, and City Boy should take note…
In the U.S., Mungo Jerry only scored one hit song – “In The Summertime” – and most Americans are under the impression that there wasn’t much else by the Mungos beyond that one single. My review of the Cherry Red Records five CD boxset MUNGO JERRY: THE DAWN ALBUMS COLLECTION may have surprised people unaware of those releases. But guess what? I’ve got an even bigger surprise – Cherry Red has released a second Mungo Jerry boxset containing five more full length albums from the British act! Entitled THE ALBUMS 1976-81, this set veers into Blues/Rock/Glam genres and generally avoids the jug band Folk of their earlier releases.
When talking about the original late ‘70s UK Punk scene, 999 seem to be one of the most overlooked bands of the era. Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, Buzzcocks, The Jam, and The Stranglers are usually the bands that many folks think of first when praising the virtues of Punk and how it levelled and changed the musical landscape. While those bands grabbed the headlines, there were plenty of equally-worthy bands that deserved fame and fortune. As you would probably guess, 999 was one of those bands. 999 made music fueled by Punk yet firmly rooted in classic Rock ‘n’ Roll. The music they recorded may have been born during the Punk era but 40 years later, it remains timeless and essential. If you need proof of that statement, Captain Oi/Cherry Red’s four CD box set THE ALBUMS 1977-80 is exactly what you need to make you believe. Again.
During the ‘80s, it seemed like you had to have a gimmick or make a unique fashion statement in order to attract the attention of Pop Music fans. Videos and TV performances were just as important as radio play and no matter how great your song was, if you didn’t stand out in a sea of Pop wannabes, you were very rarely noticed. However, once you grabbed everyone’s attention, you had to have the songs and talent to keep their attention. Pop quartet King may have had a short shelf life but they actually had more than enough talent to keep it going had they been given the chance to. With Paul King’s soulful voice, colorful outfits and fancy Doc Martens footwear, King (the band) released a pair of albums in a chart career that lasted merely two years, but their talents ensured that they are still remembered today. Not quite Synthpop, Rock or Soul, King combined a few different genres and ended up sounding like… King!
Somebody once told me that I should stop writing about Punk Rock. He said that I don’t ‘understand’ Punk and I should stick to writing about New Wave and other genres of music.
I beg to differ.
While I may not know enough about the politics that inspired the lyrics of various bands I listen to, I certainly understand my connection to the energy, the songwriting and the performances. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I devoured as much British and American Punk as I could. While The Clash, The Jam, 999, Buzzcocks, The Stranglers, The Undertones, Sex Pistols and others had songs that were instantly melodic and catchy, there were certain bands that took a few extra spins to connect with. Angelic Upstarts were one of those bands.
Looney tunes, indeed!
The chaps in The Dickies have a wicked sense of humor and The Adicts know how to have fun as well… but The Toy Dolls are the true court jesters of Punk Rock. So, if you are looking for a good time, you can either call one of those phone numbers written on the bathroom wall or you can do the right thing and hustle on down to your local Pop shop and grab THE ALBUMS: 1983-87, a delicious five CD box set that gathers together the first four albums by The Toy Dolls as well as a fifth disc of rarities!
Led by the always excitable Olga (AKA Michael Algar), The Toy Dolls has gone through several line-up changes over the years but they’ve never lost the spunk ‘n’ spittle that made them so fun when they released their debut album DIG THAT GROOVE BABY in 1983. While some may have thought of the band’s music as a parody or a humorous homage to Punk, there’s no doubt that Olga and the boys are true Punk rockers. However, they just chose to take Punk – and everything else for that matter – a lot less seriously than everyone around them. This debut includes classic tracks like “Glenda And The Test Tube Baby,” “Dougie Giro,” “Up The Garden Path,” “Stay Mellow”, the title track and “Nellie The Elephant.” While some may be put off by the over-the-top goofiness of the band’s approach to Punk, their catchy melodies and exceptional musicianship cannot be denied.
Two years later, the band released A FAR OUT DISC, another hook-filled Punk fiesta. Highlights include “My Girlfriend’s Dad’s A Vicar,” “We’re Mad” and so many others. IDLE GOSSIP was released in 1986 followed a year later by BARE FACED CHEEK. On both albums, Olga leads his crew through some thrilling and entertaining Punk nuggets. No matter what, The Toy Dolls’ music was always refreshing, exciting and inspiring. The first album may be their most popular full-length but the band are always reliable when it comes to making great records and each and every one of these albums needs to be experienced.
The fifth disc here is chock full of non-album tracks including 7” version, songs from compilations and so much more. This final CD includes the ‘hit’ version of “Nellie The Elephant” that received the most airplay over here in the U.S. There’s more fun involved including the smile/dance/sweat-inducing “Everybody Jitterbug.” Crazy, cool and fun, The Toy Dolls may never get the same respect as bands like The Clash, but they certainly deserve your attention!
Look, if you prefer your Punk political and/or pretentious, go elsewhere. If you want some hook-filled, shout-along Punk anthems with a sense of humor, then THE TOY DOLLS will satisfy all of your cravings. Ten fold. Captain Oi and Cherry Red have given us yet another set that should occupy a very sacred place in your collection!
(NOTE: The first four discs in this set represent the original albums when first released. They do NOT contain bonus tracks. However, all the bonus tracks from previous CD reissues of these albums are gathered on Disc Five).
Keep on truckin’,
Stephen THE CHANCELLOR Schnee