Categories
Boppin'

Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert): DAVID JOHANSEN, “Hot Stuff”

Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert) discusses songs I was surprised to hear covered in a live show by an act I’d gone to see.
Cover songs can add zip and spark to a rock ‘n’ roll group’s live repertoire. In their earliest gigs, most groups start out playing covers, and integrate more of their own original material into their sets as they play more dates, develop more of an identity, and attract more fans with an interest beyond just hearing bar-band interpretations of songs associated with other acts. It’s a basic long-term strategy for groups hoping to get noticed, to get somewhere; there’s a reason The Rolling Stones cut back on Chuck Berry songs and started writing their own material.

Still, a well-placed cover tune can enhance a live set, while the wrong choice can result in irritating a fan who doesn’t want to hear a fave rave act pandering to a lower common denominator. Whether it works or falls flat, the unexpected cover prompts us to say, “Wow–didn’t hear THAT coming!”

In the late ’70s, disco and punk were supposed to be at war with each other. As a self-professed punk rocker in that era, I can attest that, yeah, punks didn’t like disco, and the bumpin’-n-hustlin’ set was appalled by the loud and fast noise my people favored. Hatfields and Capulets, meet McCoys and Montagues. Never mind the fact that the mainstream rock crowd held both punk and disco in nearly equal disdain; this was war!
Except that it wasn’t. I’m skeptical of the notion that many of the Saturday Night Fevered ever took much interest in The Damned or The Dead Boys, but some among the new wave brigade did eventually allow their ears and minds to be a bit more open to non-pogo dance music, to the beat of dat ole debbil disco. Maybe it was just me, but I was a pop fan anyway; my intense dislike of disco music evolved into occasional tolerance, and tolerance evolved into a sporadic realization that some of the records weren’t bad. Plus, Donna Summer was gorgeous. I feel love.

At the age of 19 in 1979, my belated discovery and embrace of early ’70s proto-punks The New York Dolls was still at an early stage. My local Syracuse heroes The Flashcubes introduced me to the Dolls’ classic “Personality Crisis” via their own Cubic live cover in ’78. By the end of my spring ’79 semester at college in Brockport, I think I may have heard former Dolls lead singer David Johansen‘s solo track “Funky But Chic” on the Brockport campus radio station WBSU. I had heard a handful of Dolls tracks, “Personality Crisis,” “Who Are The Mystery Girls?,” and probably “Babylon,” and I was aware of the group’s importance at Ground Zero of my cherished punk movement. Given an opportunity to see ex-Doll David Johansen live, with The Flashcubes opening the show, I had just enough basic familiarity with the headliner (and abundant enthusiasm for the opening act) to declare there was no way in Hell I was missing that show.

The show took place at The Slide Inn in Syracuse. A quick check of Pete Murray’s Flashcubes timeline reveals that the date was 7/26/79. Prior to reconciliation and reunions in later years, it was the last time I saw the original line-up of the ‘Cubes, just a few days before guitarist Paul Armstrong parted company with the group, ejected over musical differences. With no knowledge of the tension within The Flashcubes at the time, I just thoroughly enjoyed their set, a set which included my first exposure to a trio of ‘Cubes originals: Paul’s “You’re Not The Liar,” Gary Frenay‘s “I Wanna Stay All Night,” and Arty Lenin‘s “Nothing Really Matters When You’re Young.”

The David Johansen Group were amazing. Johansen’s fellow former Doll Sylvain Sylvain was no longer in David’s group by the time I saw them, but it was an incredible show nonetheless. It didn’t matter at all that I didn’t know many of the songs; I knew ’em by the end of the show. “Frenchette,” in particular, floored me, and I immediately adored “Cool Metro” and “I’m A Lover,” all three of those gems turning out to be from Johansen’s eponymous debut solo album, an LP I purchased not long after hearing it played live at the Slide.

Johansen and company also did a little bit of Dolls material: “Babylon” and their Bo Diddley cover, “Pills.” The encore was “Personality Crisis.”

If you’re familiar with the Dolls’ original recording of “Personality Crisis,” you know there’s a pause in the song just before its two-minute mark, followed by Johansen whooping And you’re a prima ballerina on a spring afternoon!, the band returning as well with wolf-whistles and guitar grunge. In a live performance of the song, it’s a natural spot to throw in a snippet of a different song as a willful non sequitur, illustrating the schizophrenic nature of a personality crisis. In ’79, I think I’d read in Trouser Press that Johansen was doing “Personality Crisis” as an unlikely medley with Bonnie Tyler‘s “It’s A Heartache” (a song which channeled Rod Stewart so effectively that I thought Bonnie was Rod; she was, in fact, bigger than Rod). That night at the Slide, I’m sure I half-expected to hear “It’s A Heartache” in the middle of “Personality Crisis.”

But…no. The song’s pause came, and a familiar guitar riff suddenly filled the Slide, as patrons like me, with senses slowed by beer, struggled to mentally name that tune in…OH MY GOD, IT’S DONNA SUMMER!!

I guess the divine Miss S actually appearing at the Slide to duet with David Jo would have been a bigger surprise than just hearing him sing a Summer song, but maybe not by much. Sittin’ here eatin’ my heart out waitin’, waitin’ for some lover to call. “Hot Stuff.” Donna Summer. One could argue that Summer’s own version of “Hot Stuff” was already more of a rock song than it was a disco song. It certainly rocked in the capable hands of The David Johansen Group. 

The connection was monumental. We were punks and rockers, boppin’ with unironic intent to a song–a great song–by the reigning queen of disco. Johansen’s short cover was faithful and true, so we couldn’t claim he’d somehow redeemed the song. The song was already great; our own closed ears may have made us deaf to its charm. Until that instant.

This wasn’t my first realization that maybe some disco or disco-related music wasn’t necessarily awful. I already liked Donna Summer’s percolatin’ hit “I Feel Love,” and (as I’ve noted elsewhere) I’d already approved of “In The Navy” by The Village People, figuring that the sound of an openly gay group chanting They want you! They want you! They want you as a new recruit! on American Top 40 radio was more punk than The Sex Pistols.

But David Johansen singing Donna Summer, even if it was just an excerpt of one of her songs, performed and contained within a cantankerous classic by The New York Dolls, was an irresistible manifesto for a brokered peace between the battling factions of punk, disco, and rock ‘n’ roll. Cease fire. War is over if you want it.

Yeah, I know it wasn’t really that simple. Schisms remained, and would remain. But I saw. I heard. I wasn’t alone in that. By the ’80s, as punk and new wave had slid into new (later alternative) music and disco’s commercial day had passed for the time being, lines continued to blur. Much of the mainstream rock crowd still hated us, but that was okay. We were fighting the good fight. Looking for a lover who needs another, don’t want another night on my own. Fall in, troops. No sleep ’til victory. A New York Doll says Donna Summer’s here, and the time is right for dancing in the streets. 

WHEN DIDN’T HEAR THAT COMING! RETURNS: Love, The Bangles

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 
This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.
The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:
Volume 1: downloadVolume 2: CD or downloadVolume 3: downloadVolume 4: CD or downloadWaterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download
Hey, Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 133 essays about 133 tracks, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).

Categories
Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Ohio Express

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.


This was originally posted as part of a longer piece. It’s separated here for convenience.

In the ’70s, there was a persistent rock ‘n’ roll legend–not a true story, but a persistent one–that singer Rod Stewart had collapsed on stage during a concert, and had to be rushed to the hospital. In the ER, it was said that Stewart’s stomach was pumped, revealing that he had ingested 10cc of seminal fluid. And again, this absurd and homophobic story was not true. But when I first heard it, its nonsensical nature didn’t stop me from immediately quipping that Stewart went straight from the ER to the studio to record his cover of The Ohio Express‘ bubblegum hit, “Yummy Yummy Yummy (I Got Love In My Tummy).”

This was, of course, not where I first heard of The Ohio Express.

The Ohio Express were never going to be candidates for The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, no way, no how. They were less a band and more a means to an end, a vehicle, or really just a name for a vehicle Kasenetz-Katz–producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz–could drive to the bank, a bubblemobile loaded with cash taken from eager adolescents in exchange for chewy-chewy catchy-catchy 45 rpm records to spin on Close-N-Plays across the USA. There was another vehicle called The 1910 Fruitgum Company, and other limited-use vehicles with names like Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral CircusCrazy Elephant, and Lt. Garcia’s Magic Music Box. The whole fleet was built for speed, not durability, slapped together by an assembly line that valued a fast joy ride over safety, comfort, or aesthetics. But these were sweet rides nonetheless–sweeter than sugar. None was sweeter than The Ohio Express.

It’s a common misconception to say that The Ohio Express didn’t really exist, that they were strictly a fictional construct for Kasenetz & Katz’s to toil within as a DBA shell company. This is almost true, but not quite 100 % true. There was a band called The Ohio Express. It’s just that this band called The Ohio Express didn’t really have anything to do with most of the records credited to a “band” called The Ohio Express. This was certainly the case with the very first Ohio Express single, a stunning garage stomper called “Beg, Borrow And Steal.”

“Beg, Borrow And Steal” by The Ohio Express may be The Greatest Record Ever Made, and it will get its turn in that particular Boppin’ blog spotlight. After that single was released and starting to chart in 1967, Kasenetz & Katz recruited an Ohio band called Sir Timothy & the Royals to be The Ohio Express, playing live dates to promote this new single, even though Sir Timothy and company had nothing to do with the record. In fact, the record predates even the concept of The Ohio Express; “Beg, Borrow And Steal” had previously been a failed 1966 single credited to The Rare Breed on the Attack label, and that very same Rare Breed track became an Ohio Express single on Cameo Records. Lawyers, start your engines!

Creative branding aside, The Ohio Express did one album (Beg, Borrow & Steal) for Cameo, which included the title track, a couple of tracks by future superstar Joe Walsh, a charting cover of The Standells‘ salacious “Try It,” and a simply superb LP track called “Had To Be Me,” the latter written by Jim Pfayler of the Royals and the Express. Real success came when The Ohio Express moved on to the new Buddah Records label, and embraced a new marketing concept: bubblegum music.

Joey Levine, the singer/songwriter who’d penned “Try It,” provided the scratch vocal for a demo of “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” a song he’d co-written with Artie Resnick, and which Jay & the Techniques had rejected as too juvenile. Yes, it was rejected as too juvenile by the group that hit big with “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie.” Holler Oy! By contrast, Kasenetz & Katz flipped out over the demo, and released it–scratch Levine vocal and all–as the next Ohio Express single in 1968. It was an international Top 10 hit, # 4 in the U.S., and far and away the best-selling record to ever bear the Ohio Express brand name.  Levine never joined the band, but he became their de facto lead singer on subsequent singles “Down At Lulu’s,” “Sweeter Than Sugar,” “Mercy,” and “Chewy Chewy.” A later studio incarnation of The Ohio Express recorded a Graham Gouldman song called “Sausalito (Is The Place To Go);” that studio incarnation included Gouldman, Eric StewartKevin Godley, and Lol Creme, a combo that would later be known as 10cc.

I’m not in love. I don’t have love in my tummy. The things we do for love in my tummy!

Um–don’t tell Rod Stewart about the 10cc/Ohio Express bit.

Me? I first heard The Ohio Express on AM radio, warblin’ about all that love they had in their tummies. Yummy! I may have heard it when it was a hit, or I may have caught up to it later on oldies radio in the ’70s. My first copy of the song came on a flea-market purchase, a sampler LP called 20 Heavy Hits20 Heavy Hits was a 1970 release on the Crystal Corporation label, though I snagged mine several years after that. I may have bought it just to get The Turtles‘ “She’d Rather Be With Me,” but it had a varied wealth of pop single tracks, from The Amboy Dukes‘ “Journey To The Center Of The Mind” to The Delfonics‘ “La La Means I Love You.” Among these was “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” but I was far more taken with the pumpin’ “Down At Lulu’s,” which I’d never heard before. Consider that track a plank on my path to punk and The Ramones.

I liked “Yummy Yummy Yummy” a little. I liked “Down At Lulu’s” a lot. But The Ohio Express, whether creation or contrivance, never meant much to me until one evening around 1983 or so. I was at a Buffalo, NY nightclub called The Continental, and the DJ was noted rock ‘n’ roll journalist (and key Boppin’ [Like The Hip Folks Do] inspiration) Gary Sperrazza! I don’t remember many specifics of what Gary played that night–if it was Buffalo in the ’80s, I was probably drinking–but one track stands out with crystal clarity: “Beg, Borrow And Steal” by The Ohio Express. I had never heard the song before. It was love at first spin.

Over time, I developed a bit more appreciation for The Ohio Express. “Down At Lulu’s” was the theme song for a great radio show of the same name, hosted in the mid ’80s by DJ Cal Zone on Buffalo’s WBNY-FM. In the ’90s, I interviewed Joey Levine for my massive Goldmine piece An Informal History Of Bubblegum, and became a big fan of the song “Sweeter Than Sugar.” Much later, I tracked down a beat-up copy of the Beg, Borrow & Steal  LP, and played The Ohio Express’ version of “Try It” on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio. Then Mike McDowell of Blitz magazine said to me Sure, fine, “Try It,” great. But you should be playing “Had To Be Me.” I pulled out the LP, which I’d only purchased for “Beg, Borrow And Steal” and “Try It” before filing it away, and I gave “Had To Be Me” my first listen.

Damn. When Mike’s right, Mike’s right.

“Had To Be Me” went on to become one of the defining tracks of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio‘s long mutant existence; my pal Dave Murray chuckles at the notion of an Ohio Express album track receiving saturation airplay, but we all agree that the track deserves it. Yummy Yummy Yummy indeed. It had to be The Ohio Express.

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-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here.

Categories
Pop-A-Looza TV

Rod Stewart / Sailing

Rod Stewarts Sailing was the 15th video to air on MTV. Although it was recorded for his 1975 album, Atlantic Crossing, savvy staff at Warner Brothers Records started combing their archives for promo videos to supply the fledgling music channel with, and submitted it.

Categories
Pop-A-Looza TV

Rod Stewart / She Won’t Dance With Me

The third video shown on MTV in its inaugural year of 1981, was Rod Stewart‘s “She Won’t Dance With Me.” The song is from Stewart’s 1980 record, Foolish Behaviour, which also produced the hit “Passion.”