“1975 will be the year of The Flamin’ Groovies!”–Greg Shaw, Who Put The Bomp magazine
“It wasn’t, but it shoulda been.”–Groovies fans ever since then
It could be argued that no rock ‘n’ roll act was ever so good and simultaneously so ignored as San Francisco’s legendary Flamin’ Groovies. Throughout their long history and many personnel changes, the group was consistently out of step with the times. While contemporaries were properly freaking out and endlessly jamming in a tedious soundtrack to an emerging counterculture, the Groovies drew on unfashionable rock ‘n’ roll roots, alternately purveying good-time jug band music á la The Lovin’ Spoonful and rockin’ the motherlovin’ house down with a ferocity to rival The Rolling Stones and The Stooges. By the time reduced-frills rock started making a comeback in the ’70s, a new incarnation of The Flamin’ Groovies was dressed up in Mod clothing and playing polished power pop as if it were 1965 and the band was some mythic combination of The Beatles, Byrds, Beach Boys, and Rolling Stones heading into the studio for a session with Phil Spector. And by the time “jangly pop” became a buzz phrase, The Flamin’ Groovies were so far underground that no amount of excavating could bring them to the surface, let alone to the pop stardom that should have been their divine right.
As it is, The Flamin’ Groovies produced some unforgettable work, including three oft-covered classics: “Slow Death,” “Teenage Head,” and the incomparable, booming “Shake Some Action,” which sounded like the eleventh-hour announcement of pop-rock Armageddon. Groovies fans are generally divided into two camps: those who favor the manic-rockin’ original Groovies fronted by Roy Loney, and those who prefer the pop perfection of the Sire years (1976-79) with Chris Wilson. In both incarnations, guitarist Cyril Jordan and bassist George Alexander kept the flame burning brightly.
It’s the Sire era that puts The Flamin’ Groovies into The Power Pop Hall Of Fame. That’s not a knock against the earlier stuff, much of which is just fantastic, but an acknowledgement that we wouldn’t be talking about the Groovies as a power pop act if judged solely on the basis of “Teenage Head” and “Second Cousin;” as irresistible as those tracks are, they’re closer to the cantankerous grandeur of, say, The Pretty Things than to anything one would call power pop. The Flamin’ Groovies’ three albums for Sire–Shake Some Action, Now, and Jumpin’ In The Night–radiate a catchy cool, combining the bop and swagger of a solid rock ‘n’ roll foundation with a swoon-worthy dedication to the giddy, visceral thrill of pure pop pursuits. Shake Some Action is one of the defining albums of the genre, loaded with exquisite tracks–“I Can’t Hide,” “You Tore Me Down,” “Yes It’s True,” “I’ll Cry Alone,” and the nonpareil title tune–that shimmer with conviction and glory. Now and Jumpin’ In The Night have been less celebrated by pundits, but nonetheless gave the undeserving world such pop gems as “Good Laugh Mun,” “All I Wanted,” “Yes I Am,” “Tell Me Again,” and the magnificent “First Plane Home.”
A different line-up of the Groovies (still including Jordan and Alexander) emerged in the late ’80s, releasing the Rock Juice album in 1992 before returning to the shadows. Eventually, Cyril Jordan and George Alexander reunited with Roy Loney for live gigs as The Flamin’ Groovies. Chris Wilson even joined in for an encore at one show, an event that had once seemed, y’know, really unlikely. Credit to all parties for transcending the accumulated baggage of the past.
Both Jordan and Wilson remain in the current edition of The Flamin’ Groovies, and they released an album called Fantastic Plastic in 2017, 24 years after Rock Juice, 38 years after Jumpin’ In The Night. George Alexander plays on some of the album, but Chris von Sneidern has occupied the bass spot for recent live shows. Is this finally The Year Of The Flamin’ Groovies? No, it is not. And that’s okay. To fans, every year is another year of the Groovies. Let us bust out at full speed, ’cause love is all we need to make it all right.
TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby!
Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-Op, Ray Paul, Circe Link & Christian Nesmith, Vegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie Flowers, The Slapbacks, P. Hux, Irene Peña, Michael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave Merritt, The Rubinoos, Stepford Knives, The Grip Weeds, Popdudes, Ronnie Dark, The Flashcubes,Chris von Sneidern, The Bottle Kids, 1.4.5., The Smithereens, Paul Collins’ Beat, The Hit Squad, The Rulers, The Legal Matters, Maura & the Bright Lights, Lisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens’ track) is also available from Futureman Records.
An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!
This piece is a modified version of what I wrote for This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio when Pete Shelly passed away in late 2018, repurposed as a chapter for my forthcoming book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). Ultimately, however, the Buzzcocks chapter didn’t quite fit in with my plans for the book. It be that way sometimes. Nonetheless, the chapter is presented here for your enjoyment.
THE BUZZCOCKS: “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)”
Single, United Artists Records [U.K], 1978
Singles Going Steady was my introduction to the music of The Buzzcocks. Although it was really just a compilation of the group’s singles, it was the first Buzzcocks album released in America. I cherished it from that day forward. “Ever Fallen In Love?” “What Do I Get?” “I Don’t Mind.” “Orgasm Addict.” “Love You More.” “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays.” “Harmony In My Head.” “Promises.” Classics, all of ’em. And that was just Side One!
I’m sure I read about the band before that visit to the record shop, but I can’t remember whether or not I’d heard any of the songs before snapping up my copy of Singles Going Steady. Either way, I knew: My music. My kind of record. My kind of band. Music firmly rooted in the example of the 1960s British Invasion, music that couldn’t have existed without British punk (and American Ramones) making it possible.
Other than Steve Diggle’s “Harmony In My Head,” all of those amazing tracks on Side One of Singles Going Steady were written or co-written by Pete Shelley. Shelley and Diggle were inspired by The Sex Pistols, but informed by a working knowledge of hooks and harmonies, the power of pop, the sheer thrill of what a 45 rpm record could do when played loud, when played on the radio. Some called The Buzzcocks the punk Beatles. To me, another touchstone seemed closer to the mark: The Buzzcocks reminded me of The Kinks.
I can’t explain exactly why. Maybe it was a vague similarity in the quirky nature of the lead vocals. Maybe it was the shrugging off of any pretense of perfection, the casual embrace of its own ragged glory. For whatever reason: God save The Buzzcocks. Now and always, God save The Buzzcocks.
Although The Buzzcocks’ “What Do I Get” has shown up (incongruously) in American advertising–one still awaits the day when “Orgasm Addict” will appear in a TV commercial for ED drugs–the group’s signature tune has to be “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” (shortened to just “Ever Fallen I Love?” for the American LP). The song’s lyrics reflect a same-sex relationship, though the notion of falling in love with someone we shouldn’t have transcends the specifics of sexuality and gender politics. Few of us have been fortunate enough to avoid that trap entirely, to never find ourselves ensnared with a boy or a girl who ain’t nothin’ but trouble, however that trouble manifests its ornery self. The Buzzcocks’ recording is convincing and commanding, making what may be a really bad romance sound really good, at least on the stereo. Where it’s safe!
Ever fallen in love? With a guy or gal who just isn’t right for you, or perhaps with a style of music that will mark you permanently out with the in crowd? Testify, brothers and sisters. The pundits said punk wasn’t built to last. Pete Shelley passed away suddenly in December of 2018. The music outlasts us. It will outlive us all. It’s okay to fall in love with that.
From their GIGANTOSAUR Lp, Tiny Bit of Giant’s Blood, with Girl Over Here.
Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men
From Downtime’s promo material; “Sometimes you hear new songs that sound like old songs. Somehow, you’ve heard these songs before – in a good way. They’ve been part of your rock lexicon for eons and you just don’t know how they got there, which radio station you first heard them on, or what year they first emitted from.”
I couldn’t agree more. From the opening chords of “Upper Hand,” I was immediately transported back to my high school years, when I was hearing and discovering hits by Bryan Adams, like “This Time” and “Cuts Like A Knife.” I was bombarded by images of strolling through Lakehurst Mall with my pals, hearing those tunes, and making my way to the music store to find out more about Adams. Picking up his Lp, way back when, I saw that he played a Rickenbacker, like my heroes, The Beatles, did. That Lp went home with me and made me a B.A. fan for life.
I hope I’m not offending Piunti and his mates with the comparison, because in my humble opinion, Adams has always been one of rock’s best songwriters, in fact, for decades now.
Downtime’s overall sound is one of warmth and simplicity of production, which serves the songs well. In a perfect world, “Every High”, “All Over Again,” hell, pretty much every song on this disc, would be riding the Billboard Charts. My fave of the set, however, is the quirky “Never Belonged To Me,” which has played repeatedly in my head since first listen.
The Complicated Men; Jeff Hupp (bass), Ron Vensko (drums), and Kevin Darnall (keys), aren’t in actuality, very complicated at all. They play exactly what each song needs, without getting in the way of Piunti’s gravelly lead vocals. Power pop fans and rock fans alike, are going to devour this like an aged, medium-rare porterhouse. I expect it will be on many year-end best lists, as it will be on mine.
The First Rule
Welcome To Sucksville
The First Rule’s “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” Was definitely one of the highlights of 2017 for me. Wound tighter than a Swiss watch, this punk outfit crammed nineteen tunes onto that disc, impressing me with punk songs that stuck in my cranium like pop songs. Adding to their first-rate writing skills is the fact that they’re a local band, which really put me in their corner.
The band has upped their game since then, as the production, playing and songwriting are notably tighter and more distilled here. Guitarist Chelsey Corrin left the band last year, but still contributed to a lot of these tracks. Singer Nicholas O’Malley is present and in fine voice, though, sneering his way through the opening one-two punch of “War Machine” and “Little Miss Narcissist.”
“Better Things” starts out as an acoustic declaration before vaulting into a grinder for the fed-up among us. This one really gets to the point in a hurry, which is what these guys (and girl) are good at. My fave of the set, however, is the hyper-yet-sentimental “I Knew You When,” an ode to the old friends who we looked out for in the old days, who have finally seen fit to get themselves together. A top-shelf effort.
Katie Says b/w Go For A Ride
Big Stir Records continues their digital singles series, with Trip Wire’s “Katie Says” b/w “Go For A Ride.” The San Francisco quartet blasts out two punchy 90’s-styled alternative rock tracks, which sound better with each subsequent listen.
Channeling Bob Mould with the sublimely-bleak “Katie Says,” Trip Wire sounds as if it might’ve been hiding in your college roommate’s record collection all along. Likewise, “Go For A Ride” is built with a wall of guitars gritty enough to make Matthew Sweet tear up. Two ace tunes for a buck? Killer deal.
This week, I’m taking another look at reviews I wrote of various Adam Schlesinger projects, when my Quick Spins column ran in The Kenosha News. Adam’s recent passing due to the pandemic has really impacted me, so I’d really like to be a part of people discovering what made him such a special guy.
Tinted Windows (S-curve)
Wow, did this album take me back. Tinted Windows‘ debut is a power pop feast that harkens back to the late seventies and early eighties. It’s no surprise then, to learn just who makes up this stellar group.
Tinted Windows are; Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick (drums), Adam Schlesinger of Fountains Of Wayne (bass), James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins (guitar)and Taylor Hanson of Hanson (lead vocals). Quite a line-up, to be sure.
“Kind Of A Girl” starts things off as one of the greatest singles I’ve heard in several years. With muscular guitars and drums propelling the ageless vocals of Taylor Hanson, it’s hard not to be suckered in.
You’ll find that most of these eleven tracks will blow by in what seems like seconds. They are catchy as all get out, especially the Latin-flavored “Cha Cha.” This is gonna sound great in the car this summer. Buy this. Now.