Artist Lookback: The Runaways, A Guilty Rocking Pleasure

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One of the great things about being married to the Rock Chick is the enormous amount of music she’s turned me onto over the years. Among other bands, early on she turned me onto an all female band, The Donnas. I had never even heard of the Donnas until the Rock Chick put on the LP “Spend The Night” one night and man, these chicks “rawked!” Their song “5 O’Clock In the Morning” was on high rotation at the house for quite some time and boasts one of the most hot-shit guitar solo’s you’re ever going to hear. All female bands were somewhat of a novelty for me when I was growing up. In fact, there wasn’t really any female band I paid much attention to when I was growing up. There was Heart (who had 2 women and 3 men), but after 1980 they went all slick pop and lost my interest. “Barracuda” by them was a descent track. Of course Heart had to suffer through spurious rumors of lesbian incest. Chicks never got their due back in the day. Most of us owned a bunch of heavy metal and hard rock albums and then one or two Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks albums and that was the extent of what we knew about “chicks who rock.”

The Rock Chick has been extolling me to write a post on “Chicks Who Rock” for quite a while now. I had to tell her, beside reminding her of her lifetime reading ban of B&V due to undue criticism of my sentence structure, that I don’t take requests at B&V even if you are sleeping with the writer. That said, the Donnas’ “5 O’Clock In the Morning” popped up on the iPod shuffle the other day and I started doing some reading about them on the inter-web. They cited a band called The Runaways as one of their major influences. I knew I’d heard of The Runaways but couldn’t quite place them. Suddenly it occurred to me that when Joan Jett was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, she mentioned that she’d got her start in The Runaways. I had always thought The Runaways were like Menudo, with interchangeable parts… perhaps I was wrong. Intrigued, I knew I had to do more musical spelunking.

Another great thing about being married to the Rock Chick is that she’s willing to dedicate an entire evening to listening to music. The same evening I put on Big Star’s “#1 Record” we listened to an assortment of new music including The Record Company, The Shelters and yes, The Runaways. I figured The Runaways’ music, since they were put together by skeezy producer Kim Fowley as a novelty act, would be awful. I was very pleasantly surprised. These chicks rocked hard with a punk sensibility that I had not expected. Even the Rock Chick dug The Runaways’ first album and she has very discerning taste. Clearly more research was necessary.

I was too young for The Runaways. They put out their first album in 1976 when I was still collecting baseball cards and only lasted through roughly 1979. They were formed around the core members of Joan Jett on rhythm guitar and some lead vocals, Sandy West on drums and of all people, Lita Ford on lead guitar. When I found out Heavy Metal Maven Lita Ford was in this band with Joan Jett I knew I was onto something. They went through a number of bass players including a chick who ended up in the all female pop band The Bangles. I never had much use for the Bangles… so I consider that the one blight on the Runaways’ otherwise spotless pedigree. For their first two studio albums The Runaways also had Cherrie Currie on lead vocals. Apparently there have been documentaries and biographical movies made about these gals, but I’ve never seen any of them. I understand there was a lot of conflict and drama around the band – but what band doesn’t have conflict and drama. It sounds like this Kim Fowley guy who was their producer and manger was pretty rapey around these young teenage girls. The back story all sounds pretty awful. However, I’m not here to talk about all of that. I just like the music. They never really caught on in America but were, as the cliche goes, “big in Japan.”

The Runaways music is, as I mentioned, a blend of hard rock and punk. These are sleazy songs about misbehavior. These are the dirty girls my mother warned me about and I soooo loved from adolescence to my thirties. Oh, who am I kidding, I still love the bad girls. The debut album is probably the pick of the litter, simply titled “The Runaways.” “Cherry Bomb” was “the hit” that they are most remembered for. Its all dirty riffs and Lita Ford’s screaming leads. I’ll admit some of the lyrics are juvenile but that’s what I’ve always loved about rock and roll. “You Drive Me Wild” has a dirty riff with possibly Lita’s best guitar solo. “Is It Day Or Night” a question I’ve often asked myself when I wake up, is a big loping rocker. They even cover Lou Reed and the Velvet Undergrounds’ “Rock And Roll” with a lot of cowbell. Oh my God is that song so 70s. “American Nights” is an anthem that should have been played all summer in every small town in the U.S. The album ends with a baffling mini-opera kind of song, “Dead End Justice” which utterly lost me. Other than that misfire, “The Runaways” is dirty, rock and roll fun.

The second record, and Cherrie Currie’s last record with the band before going solo was “Queens Of Noise.” They start off right where they left off on the debut record, all hard rock and dirty girl lyrics. The title track comes from a lyric on “American Nights.” They sing in the chorus, “do whatever you want to me.” God, I love these girls. “Take It Or Leave It” is one of my favorite tracks on this record, sung by Joan Jett, and is cowritten by none other than Jagger/Richards. I have to assume Mick was sniffing around the girl band which makes me love the guy that much more. “Neon Angels On The Road to Ruin,” and “Born To Be Bad” continue the basic Runaways themes. I will say the song “Midnight Music” is a more sophisticated tune. “California Paradise” which boasts some interesting drumming and “Hollywood” are better “California sunshine” songs than anything those pussies the Beach Boys put out. “Johnny Guitar” the closing track has some of Lita Ford’s most epic guitar soloing of her career.

The third record, “Waiting For the Night,” I really enjoyed despite the exit of Cherrie Currie. I like “Waiting For the Night” almost better because Joan Jett does all the singing. I just dig her voice more. You could tell the band was pulling in two different directions, punk vs hard rock. Song like “Little Sister” and “Wasted” feel more punky to me than hard rockers. And, “Fantasies” and “Trash Can Murders” are more metalish music than punk. “Gotta Get Out Tonight” has a poignant urgency as does “Wait For Me.” This is all very solid rock and roll. “School Days” has a break neck riff that Aerosmith would be jealous of.

Although they did put out another studio album, by “Waiting For the Night” The Runaways were a spent musical force. Inter-band struggles finally tore these guys apart. Apparently Joan wanted to go more punk with Sandy West and Lita Ford lining up against her, pushing for a more heavy metal direction. They split ways for the oldest reason in the rock and roll books – “creative differences.” Lita went on to be an 80s Heavy Metal Chick. Sandy West had her own band but alas succumbed to cancer in 2006. Cherrie Currie, whoever everyone thought would soar as a solo artist, never really found success. And Joan Jett, well, everybody knows that story. Had I known about The Runaways when I wrote my post about bands who had members who went on to bigger fame, I’d have included these guys. The Runaways are more than a novelty band, they’re a guilty rock and roll pleasure. At the very least everyone should hear their debut album.

Chicks who Rock are very, very powerful… take my word for it. I married one.

Cheers!

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Humor: The Key To A Strong Marriage – Burt Reynold’s “Sharky’s Machine”

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As I’ve often referred to in BourbonAndVinyl, I was single for a long, long time. And then I met a really cool chick, The Rock Chick, and settled down and got married. One might think that this late entry into the realm of marital bliss might leave me somewhat clueless on subject of a successful, happy marriage. How could a bourbon drinking bounder figure out the intricacies of something so complicated as marriage. I turned for wisdom on the subject, where I always turn, to the culture of the late 70s and early 80s. In the case of marriage, I turned to Burt Reynold’s and his 1981 movie, ‘Sharky’s Machine.’ I had tried to glean something from watching Kojak reruns but there was no wisdom on marriage there…”Who Loves Ya, Baby.”

Even though I married an extremely cool woman, with a great sense of humor, she’s still a woman. Men and woman have been inexplicably getting married since the dawn of time. I read somewhere somebody describing men and women as being “members of two distinct and warring tribes.” I think that sums it up. How any two people can set aside the differences that daily life generates, especially when you take into consideration the raising of children and the conflict that generates, is a mystery.

Marriage is minefield. I mean, it’s a happy thing if you’re doing right, but there are always mines out in that field. The mines typically come in the form of questions… for example:

“Do these pants make me look fat?”

“Do you like this outfit?”

“Which shoes do you like best with this skirt?”

“I know the game is on, but can you come in here and help me unload the dishwasher?”

“My mother is coming to visit, isn’t that great?”

“Don’t you remember, I told you we were going to the “Phantom Of The Opera” over a month ago…”

“Can we do something with all these albums of yours?”

The list could go on. The entire mood of the household is dependent on how I answer those questions. Things can go from blissful to sullen and angry at the drop of a hat. I learned this, as I’ve learned everything in my life… The Hard Way.

But then I remembered the old Burt Reynold’s movie, ‘Sharky’s Machine’ and it all became clear to me. As the lead character, Sharky, Burt plays a tough, streetwise, wise-cracking, Atlanta police officer. He has a steak-out go incredibly wrong and gets moved out of Narcotics and into the Vice Squad, a unit of misfits and burn outs. Ah, the 70s… I could have written the standard plot lines they used, or at least I like to think I could. Anyway, Sharky’s partner in the Vice Squad is a man named Arch played by Bernie Casey.

Arch is into Zen. In a great scene that can be found on Youtube if you search on the words “Sharky’s Machine Ghosting Scenes,” Arch explains how  he used Zen to avoid being shot when he was out on a domestic violence call. He was circling the house when the culprit comes out of the back door with a sawed-off shot gun. He thought for sure he was dead. It was then that he applied his Zen theory and he completely “disappeared.” He ceased to exist. His face went blank, his arms went slack. He was putting off zero energy, zero emotion. Instead of shooting him, the culprit just walked past him.

Later in the movie, Arch gets into a gun battle with the crazed, coke-addled villain, Victor. Arch is injured and so is Victor. Victor manages to disarm Arch. Once again Arch is faced with a sawed-off shotgun in his face. And you watch Ben Casey, in what should have been an Academy Award winning performance, in my humble opinion, do his “Ghosting,” Zen disappearing act. His arms and jaw go slack. His eyes are a complete blank. He is literally out of his body. Victor screams at him twice, I guess to see if he’ll react. Arch knows if he reacts in anyway, Victor will shoot him in the face. So he stays Zen disappeared. Victor just turns and walks away down the hallway leaving Arch alive. I have no idea why those scenes made such an impression on me, but I’ve always remembered them.

Then, years later I got married and suddenly I realized why I was meant to remember ‘Sharky’s Machine’ and the Zen-disappearance scenes.

When my wife comes into the room and says, say, “Were you eating potato chips in the kitchen, because you got crumbs, EVERYWHERE…” in the past I would have defended myself. Or blamed the cat. But not now. Now, I do what I like to call, “The Sharky’s Machine.”

I let my arms fall to my side. My jaw goes slack. I emit no emotion, zero energy. My eyes go blank and I completely disappear. I know that if I react in anyway, I’m likely to get shot in the face with a metaphorical, emotional shot gun. Oddly, the Sharky’s Machine seems to work. The other night my wife asked me if I wanted to get a winter place in Phoenix to be nearer to her daughter. Early into the conversation she said, “Are you Sharky’s Machining me?” The lesson there, is that the Sharky’s Machine Maneuver works even when she knows I’m doing it.

The Sharky’s Machine has saved me countless arguments, apologies, flowers and chocolates. It’s literally saved me thousands of hours of anguish. And I owe it all to Burt Reynold’s and Bernie Casey. I knew it was a must to share this bit of wisdom with the rest of the world.

I’m sure it would work for women out there too, when your husband asks you, say, “Do you want to skip our anniversary and go to the football game instead?” Or, “Do you think your friend would be interested in a threesome?” Or worse, “What do you think of my blog?” I think the Sharky’s Machine is a perfect move for you ladies out there.

Remember folks, marriage is a compromise. And, more importantly, “Nobody leans on Sharky’s Machine.”

Cheers! (Youtube.com, search on “Sharky’s Machine Ghosting Scenes.”)

On The Mellow End: Norah Jones & Van Morrison Release New Singles, LPs On The Way

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I’m as much of a “Hard Rock” person as anybody, but every now and then you need to turn it down a bit. Actually I’m just a fan of music in general, I just mostly talk about the rockers. There are a couple of new songs, preceding albums, that have come out lately that I feel necessary to comment on… These aren’t party songs, or hard rock songs, these are late night songs. These are tumbler full of Blanton’s bourbon, sitting on the porch songs. These are get your belt off and hold me close songs… Putting on either of these songs could lead you anywhere…

First and foremost is Norah Jones’ new tune “Carry On” from her upcoming album, “Day Breaks.” This is a return to her early, earthy, jazzy style of “Come Away With Me.” It’s as sexy as Hell. This woman could sing the phone book and make it sound great. If you can’t get laid with Norah Jones on the stereo, you can’t get laid… More to come on this as the LP comes out….This song is all piano and brilliant vocal. It’s the closest thing she’s done to her first album in a long time. I think this is a great return to her early sound. I will admit, I’ve loved everything she’s done, experimentally and other wise…. Check out the Little Willies, her great, country side project.

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What to think about Van Morrison…We’d all love to think he’s got another “Moondance” or even a “Tupelo Honey” left in him, but who knows. He hit a hot streak starting with the “Down The Road” album and kept it going through “Magic Time.” Then he phoned it in with “Keep It Simple.” He followed up with the fabulous “Astral Weeks: Live At the Hollywood Bowl” which was simply transcendent. Yes, he was revisiting an old album, but the passion of that performance was almost as great as the original LP. His last two albums, oddly named, left me cold… although the duet, “Streets of Arklow” with Mick Hucknell might be one of the greatest duets ever, and it slowly restored my faith…

I have no idea what his new LP “Keep Me Singing” will bring, but for some odd reason, I remain hopeful. The lead single, “Too Late” has me very optimistic. It’s an oddly hopeful, “it’s not too late” mid tempo, train-tempo-chugging tune that I really like. It’s the first Van tune that I thought might signal he’s trying since “Magic Time.” I get it, he did two or three great albums and no one noticed, why try… but it appears he’s coming back with a very strong album. These are the type of albums that B&V were founded on, strong albums in the later careers of great artists…I’m not sure if this will be a great album, but it’s a great first single…

Again, these aren’t great party songs… but if you’re having a night cap and someone is in their underwear, this might just tweak the mood in your favor… and if you’re like me, you can always use that help…

Cheers!

AC/DC’s Stiff Upper Lip Concert – I Discover I’m Dating The Rock Chick

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I met Rachel (*name changed to protect the innocent) during a long, hot summer. She was beautiful, that much was true, but it took some time for me to discover the person behind the beautiful face. Rachel was a mystery to me. I was in my thirties and single, coasting through life from party to party, bourbon glass secured. At the time my whole vibe was, as Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant sang, “It is the summer of my smiles, flee from me Keepers Of The Gloom,” which really has nothing to do with this story, I just like to prove that I can insert weird rock lyrics into anything I write.

During our first date, Rachel had piqued my interest when she commented on the shitty contemporary music scene. “Too many boy bands out there… Nirvana killed all the bands I loved…What happened to good ol’ fashion rock and roll…” I began to think, to myself, “I may be onto something here.”

Eventually during the course of getting to know each other, she invited me to go to the local music store. Going to the music store was something I always did with my friends. It was a “dude thing.” I had a roommate in college, Drew, and we spent many a wonderful afternoon in Aggieville’s best record store, flipping through stacks of glorious albums. I can almost smell the incense even now. (I still wonder where all the hippies went now that all the record stores are gone.) It was like a ritual we had. We’d walk in, rarely speaking to each other, except to point out an exceptional find, make our selections, check out and then only when we got back on the street, share our purchases with the other. If I had known you could get away with taking a chick to the record store I would have started doing it a long time ago. That afternoon with Rachel was eye-opening. I’m not a person who has a lot of restraint in a music store, but every time I hesitated over whether to purchase an album, there was Rachel, standing at my shoulder, prodding me on, “Come on you know you want it, go ahead and get it…” I couldn’t help but wonder if we were still talking about music.

She bought a stack of albums that day. They should have charged her by the pound. It was a great, varied selection of music. Amongst all the classic bands I liked, she had some newer music and music I wasn’t familiar with. She turned me onto The Cult, Green Day and Social Distortion that day. I couldn’t help but notice, tucked away in the stack was AC/DC’s then current new album, “Stiff Upper Lip”. I chuckled because I abandoned AC/DC after “For Those About to Rock”. I wrote them off as a band who’d hit the jackpot with “Back In Black”, an album I bought on vinyl the week it came out, and they just gave up. Sure, I went back and bought the Bon Scott-era classics like, “Dirty Deeds,” “High Voltage,” and the lost gem “Powerage” but they hadn’t done anything good in years. I barely knew this woman so I wasn’t about to give her a hard time.

We went back to her apartment, which I had not yet been fortunate enough to visit. Rachel had a daughter and she was very protective as good mothers are. And let’s face it, I was pretty sketchy in those days. 30’s, never married… Who could blame her. Up until our “record store day”, Rachel had always lived at an “undisclosed location”. To my, at the time chagrin, the first album she put on, while she cooked an outstanding dinner, was “Stiff Upper Lip”. I was amazed at what I heard. I hadn’t realized it but around the time of “Razor’s Edge” AC/DC had started to care again. They went through a bit of a renaissance that continues today. “Stiff Upper Lip” was a kick ass album. After dinner and a lot of wine, I found myself putting that album back on and dancing around the apartment with Rachel. Well, it was more staggering around while air-guitaring, but I’ll call it dancing.

As the evening wound down I found myself inviting Rachel to go to the upcoming AC/DC concert in support of “Stiff Upper Lip”. It was a full month out, so this was dicey. I usually avoided inviting women to concerts. I’ve had a few break-ups that go: “It’s not you, it’s me…”, “Are we still going to the Stones?”, “Uh, no…” Awkward. If I was going to take this woman to AC/DC I was gambling that this thing was going to last that long. The wine and rock and roll swept me away and I figured, what the hell…

The day of the show, we hung out at Rachel’s now disclosed location, er I mean, apartment. The pool was right behind her apartment and we laid out all day, prepping for the show with Absolut Citron and lemonade. It was a glorious late summer day. We met some friends of mine, another couple, and headed down to old Kemper Arena for the show. AC/DC killed that night. I’d seen them on the “Ballbreaker” tour and they were good but that night they killed. Brian Johnson came out during the opening, swinging from a rope tied to a giant bell, “Hells Bells”! At one point, Angus came out to an elevated stage at the back of the floor and melted everyone in the arena’s face off with one of the greatest guitar solos I’ve ever witnessed personally.

I had forgotten the primal effect AC/DC’s music had on women. There were several female fans who were gladly removing their shirt and letting their “freak flag fly” so to speak. To quote comic Steve Martin, “I must have seen 57 tits that night.” I couldn’t help but turn to Rachel with one raised eye-brow wondering if she was going to follow suit. She clearly read my mind and said, smiling, “Never gonna happen, Slick.” Oh, well… dare to dream I always say. It was a glorious evening, even though Rachel kept her shirt on. She was singing along, arms raised in the air. It was at that moment I realized I wasn’t just dating a “rock chick”, I was dating The Rock Chick, and that is a very, very good thing. I had been searching for a woman who liked music as much as me my whole life. I couldn’t help but think, “I may be onto something here…”

After the show, Rachel and my buddy helped direct us out of the crazy traffic. It’s always good to have a couple of Germans with you, highly organized people. I’m Italian, I’m a Lover not a Planner. As we finally drifted into the traffic flow I noticed we were behind a limousine. Without notice, a naked woman burst through the sun roof. I could hear the AC/DC playing from the limo through my open window. Again I found myself thinking, “We must explore this effect AC/DC’s music produces in women… if we could bottle this…” But, I digress.

When we got back to her apartment, where we were having a celebratory nightcap, Rachel turned on the local rock radio station. They were doing a concert “playback” and playing exclusively AC/DC music. After a few selections, Rachel began to complain that they never play “Who Made Who”. “Call the radio station and make a request.” I hadn’t called a radio station since I was a child. To my surprise, she got through. I quickly whispered, “Tell him you’re naked…that’ll work.” It wasn’t a complete lie, she had somehow removed all her clothing without me seeing anything and slipped into the AC/DC concert t-shirt I bought for myself, which I was quickly realizing that my ownership claim had expired on, somewhere around the time the bra dropped to the floor. She told the DJ she was naked, and faster than I could laugh, the current song cut off and he put her on live…”I have a Rachel here who is naked and wants to request a song….” Needless to say, “Who Made Who” was on the airwaves in short order. I think I fell in love, just a little bit, at that very moment.

The evening continued to rage on until, at one point, wildly dancing, while I watched from the bed (her stereo was fortunately in her bedroom), Rachel’s hair flew up in the air and suddenly I realized her feet were sailing past her head. I couldn’t help but think, “how do you pull off that David Lee Roth jump without falling…” Unfortunately Rachel had slipped on one of her pumps that she’d casually kicked off early and she crashed to floor with a resounding thud. Everything went quiet… I crept to the end of the bed and slowly peeked over the edge of the footboard and found she was lying on her back laughing hysterically. Hot chicks don’t usually react that nonchalantly to falling… but there was Rachel, in what was formerly my AC/DC t-shirt, laughing. I couldn’t help but think again, “I may be onto something here…”