Given my typical long-winded (weak) imitation Bangsian prosody maybe I should dispense with the opening frivolities and spare ya a bit!
***Various Artists-A-SQUARE OF COURSE CD (Big Beat UK)
You can tell that I'm a frugal MacDougal because even though I wanted this particular disque to have and to hold when I first learned of its existence I waited until it went down in price before snatching it up for my very own! Kinda reminds me of the days when I'm comb the budget cassette bin at Musicland in the Eastwood Mall searching for those great buy one for $2.00 and get the other for a mere penny specials they had. Yeah those factorycassettes as they used to call 'em did sound like mud and with the cheap click down or slide in cases the record companies used to pawn off on us to save the $$$ weren't exactly built to last, but can you think of a better deal especially for the depression-era wage kiddies like myself who hadda make do with this or make do with nothing at all?
Naturally I hadda pay much more than two bucks for this particular item but then again you have to take 35 years of inflation into hand. Hmmmm, still kinda expensive, but back then who woulda known that I would be just stuffed with alla the moolah I need to buy all these things I missed when they were first out there for the pickin'? Like Eddie Haskell, I can buy out the candy shop and give it to the poor if I wanted, but I'd rather splurge on alla the records I want even if I do have to wait awhile to get 'em at slightly reduced prices!
But should I have waited so long to get this collection of groups who recorded for or were somehow associated with the Ann Arbor-based A-Square label? Good question. I mean yeah, there were things on here that I wanted to hear ever since I read a writeup in whatever ish of UGLY THINGS this was reviewed in, and I would say that some of this is whatcha'd call "mandatory" 'n all. But is it that crucial?
To be hackneyed 'bout it, yes/no. Sure A-Square was a leader in documenting the late-sixtie Detroit/Ann Arbor music scene and were responsible for releasing (more or less since it's a long story) the fabled MC5 "Looking At You"/"Borderline" single, but frankly a good hunk of this disque will disappoint those of you who somehow thought that label was the bastion of local high energy rock just brimming with the Detroit heavy metal musings of every group in the tri-county area. I mean yeah there was a Detroit high energy scene with the MC5 at its epicenter (with more than a few local bands "emulating" the Five long before they hit the national spotlight a few years later), but despite all you may have believed this label just wasn't geared towards the harder edge of the Detroit style that was well-documented in the pages of TIME and NEWSWEEK with reverberations reaching as far as Prague and Umela Hmota. The truth of the matter is that the label, according to the dictates of its founder Jeep Holland, was created to capitalize on the AM pop scene and the comparatively gentler stylings of such acts as the Thyme, Rain and the Bossmen, not forgetting the MIA pre-"Guitar Army" Rationals who I guess were supposed to get their own Cee-Dee treatment which may or may not have come out by now (leave that brainy stuff to the people at UGLY THINGS to figure out!)
Although people tend to peg me as a total hard-rock/high energy adherent I certainly can have an appreciation for these more pop-guided tracks which sure kept hold of their mid-sixties punk rock roots as much as the MC5 and Stooges did. The Thyme did have their sappier moments true, but they still could make some smart late-sixties pop along the lines of "I Found a Love" which has that baroque smart style to it that groups like the Marbles would milk for all they could in a good decade or so. Even with their "wimpier" image they still could make some hot if commercial music that shouldn't "offend" any of you hard rockers out there one iota. The Scot Richard Case kinda straddle the soft/hard rock boundaries and it's sure great hearing them romp through two Pretty Things covers, especially "Get The Picture" sounding way better'n the low-fidelity version we first heard via BOULDERS VOLUME TWO. And, for also fitting into the Jeep Holland frame of potential top twenty fodder, Rain and the Bossmen do well enough with their late-sixties steady poppers which I must admit held their own against some of the sillier material to hit the charts just custom-made for the loudmouth gals with their transistor radios and Jacqueline Susann novels who you just knew were going to go overboard into total hormonal insanity once menarche hit.
I know, you're more curious about the harder gunch. There's enough of that especially after the dichotomy between Holland's pop rock sensibilities and John Sinclair's underground credo was more or less forged after the former admitted to liking the MC5 and the latter the Rationals (probably due to their personal homage via "Guitar Army"). Unfortunately most of the high energy Detroit flailings here are easily available elsewhere and in fact a few tracks including the Up's "Just Like An Aborigine" weren't really A-Square related, but in the company of the rest of these numbers they mingle about sorta like the AM dial of the day when some hard punker would be followed by a Frank Sinatra schmoozer the kind your dad just loved and wished you listened to 'stead of that rock & roll crap nobody would remember in one year's time.
Some surprises do abound, like a live Prime Movers numbuh with the Ig of Stooge himself singing "I'm a Man", not to mention this previously unreleased band from Saginaw called Half Life that certainly did get their sound and energy from Motor City ideals. The inclusion of the A-Square single by the Apostles, "Stranded in the Jungle"/"Tired of Waiting", was certainly worth the price of admission as these guys were reportedly also partaking of the MC5 credo and thus were a must hear on my list for years on end. Well, now I can tell you that I've heard the tracks and yeah, I really do like their borderline garage rock/high energy approach to these two covers (why no originals tho?). Natch I was expecting a hard drone with feedback frills and atonal Sun Ra screech galore but the band romps through the hoary old chestnuts in an organ/bass/drums frame quite different than the rock that Detroit was known for at the time. (The booklet notes do mention that the Apostles did have a hard time delivering on the volume that Grande Ballroom fans were craving even if their style did generally fit in with the mode of the music changing.) What I really want to know is, who is the black guy from the band pictured in the Apostles group snap and is he the same guy who can be seen standing onstage with the MC5 in a number of '69 vintage photos? This is but one of the historical questions that must be answered!
But you know what I'd really like? A Cee-Dee filled with nothing BUT late-sixties MC5-influenced Detroit offerings. Y'know, nothing but high energy fuzz-filled noise and drone recorded by those groups that Tyner said were ripping his band off back in some '67 interview he did w/Sinclair in THE ANN ARBOR SUN. Stuff like the Keggs, Unrelated Segments, Orange Wedge and who knows, maybe even some '67-vintage Amboy Dukes. Whatever, I could really osmose into something along those lines as I'm sure any red-blooded BLOG TO COMM reader (y'know, the ones who've read this far down the line w/o coming to the conclusion that this review is nothing but pompous mouthfoaming) would agree.
***THE DEMONS LP (Mercury)
As many of you already know, there were quite a few musical acts who frequented the stages of the New York City "underground" rock clubs who were awarded with recording contracts once the record label antennae were tuned into whatever new beat they were hipped to from reading then-current issues of ROCK SCENE. However, for every Dictators and Blondie that "made it" there must have been at least twenty schmuck bands that didn't, as anyone who perused my review of some old issues of THE AQUARIAN a few months back would attest to. Now don't get me wrong, some of these off-the-radarscope singles and albums were pretty good, but many more missed whatever mark I suppose they were trying to hit (probably something with ah "underground" credo) by a country mile. My guess is that somebody decided to "clean these groups up a bit" and in doing so washed away all of the roughness and cooties that made these groups punky in the first place. Naturally everybody, from the fans to the bands themselves were disappointed which is why I think that the resultant albums from the likes of such groups as City Lights and Tuff Darts did not represent what could have been, one reason both of their albums and quite a few more are only once in a blue moon spins here at BLOG TO COMM central.
Anyone hoping that the Demons would have any semblance of a Heartbreakers style and pounce considering that Walter Lure (ne. Luhr) sprang from their ranks will be greatly disappointed, as would anyone seeing that Craig Leon produced their album and thus would have known better'n to goop it all up. Unfortunately only a small portion of these New York punk rockers' album lives up to the mystique behind the scene if not the band, one that seems to waft between glam rock and punk lite on most of this release. I dunno if I should chalk it up to first elpee jitters or a poor choice of material, but THE DEMONS only sparks on four cylinders and has that late-seventies pop gloss that might have sounded good when Leif Garrett or Shawn Cassidy were charting it up (that is, might have sounded good for Imants Krumins, but not for me!) but comes off positively wilted next to the music that made up the soundtrack for many a disaffected teenage ponce during the days of disco as the music that dare not speak its true nature.
The cover of "He's a Rebel" fizzles out (especially when compared to the Zippers' concurrent version) while "I Fought The Law" sounds almost too Los Angeles music biz to have appeared on the ABC MADE FOR TELEVISION MOVIE OF THE WEEK starring people whose previous series for the network were axed anywhere from one to twenty years prior. At least the group do succeed in displaying a modicum of punkiness on such originals as "What a Shame" and the sendoff "I Hate You" but still, the overboard production washes away all of the fly specs and everything I would enjoy in this group. The existence of this platter makes me hope that the set the Demons recorded for the unreleased second CBGB album is somewhere in the files and maybe the heirs to that club's legacy can release stuff like that 'stead of the new skapop and whatnot that is coming out on whatever's left of their label.
I'll betcha Jon Behar would love it!
***CHARLES "BOBO" SHAW AND THE HUMAN ARTS ENSEMBLE FEATURING JOSEPH BOWIE-P'NK J'ZZ LP (Muse)
One that didn't quite zone me given the possibilities, but hey, P'NK J'ZZ does sound better later than it did the first time around. Of course after James Blood Ulmer and Ronald Shannon Jackson (not to mention trombonist Joseph Bowie's own experiences with and without James Chance) I was expecting something of a more feral bent, but this outta-the-way platter does have enough of the late-seventies loft jazz pounce to it that makes this a recording to amuse. And, with the usual St. Louis BAG standbys like Julius Hemphill and Abdul Wadud in tow, P'NK J'ZZ does kick up enough of a sweat that echoes earlier (and later) Human Arts Ensemble albums that never let down even if they do have white guys playin' on 'em. Come to think of it, with the obvious dropoff in underground rock quality that's plagued us these past three or so decades this is a way better punk rock effort than anything you might see Dave Lang holding near and dear to his wretched little heart.