Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Autograph - Sign In Please (RCA, 1984)

Finally, I'm able to explain the "Russian Confusion" that plagues these L.A. sleazesters like German troops trapped in a Moscow blizzard. In 1985, Soviet art-rockers Avtograph participated in the Live Aid music festival. Despite not being able to make the trip in person, their performance was simulcast from a stage in the USSR. Avtograph's ELP-meets-King Crimson exhibition appreciably assisted in the feeding of hungry children, but audiences on two continents didn't exactly join hands in the soup kitchen. Roughly five minutes into the set, the BBC mistakenly switched to footage of berry pickers in Bulgaria being interviewed for a documentary. Avtograph's profile was soon exiled to Siberia, but the tainted juice from the spoiled fruit would squeeze the memories of music fans many years after the Cold War.

Turning to the Stars 'N' Stripes signature, Steve Plunkett (lead vocals/guitar), Steve Lynch (lead guitars), Randy Rand (bass/vocals), Keni Richards (drums) and Steven Isham (keyboards/vocals) chose their band name after hearing Def Leppard's "Photograph." The runner-up pick? Krackatoa. When a demo tape caught the attention of David Lee Roth, Autograph were selected to open 48 dates on Van Halen's 1984 tour. Two months later, the band inked a deal with RCA in the dressing room after a show at Madison Square Garden. Flying back to L.A. to work on the debut album proved to be an easy task, since Autograph had been playing most of the songs from it on tour. The last track written for Sign In Please? If you've seen the opening credits for "Hot Tub Time Machine," you should be able to name that tune within five notes.

Reaching #28 on Billboard, "Turn Up The Radio" was an enduring anthem for rockers of several stripes. Whether you were a Def Lep pyromaniac, a Van Halen jumper or a Night Ranger motorist, the chances you skipped out on work/school in order to crank the knob up to 11 and beyond were greater than seeing the Celtics and/or Lakers in the NBA Finals. Steve Lynch's eight-fingered soloing won him an award in a popular guitar mag. Bet some mean mimicking was done on brooms and brushes! Songs like these benefit from the hugeness of glossy production and upfront synths. I've heard the demo version on the Missing Pieces collection, and the in-your-face attitude on all fronts was sorely lacking. My brother Brian, not normally a huge fan of this style, would undoubtedly rank "Turn Up The Radio" on his list of the 250 greatest songs in the history of music. Like Ratt's "Round And Round" and Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock," it makes an instant impression and causes repeated abuse of volume buttons.

The video for "Send Her To Me" features a bevy of teased-out babes coming out of a wooden box and joining the band on stage. Weird fact: Steve Plunkett is the writer and performer of the theme to the 7th Heaven TV show. In lieu of galloping groupies, I would like an order of Jessica Biel. Have you ever seen her do a cartwheel or the splits? It'll change your life! Song titles don't come any clumsier than "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend Isn't Me." Here's a lyrical moment that's equally awkward: "You know it makes him feel so bad/To know her kids want to call me Dad." For the mom in a mini-skirt, I'd suggest choosing the chap who gives the children more cheddar at Chuck E. Cheese's. Until today, I had no idea that Steve Lynch was related to George Lynch (Dokken) in a brotherly way. Perhaps they could hang out with Merrill Lynch on "Friday" and attempt to sell the hooks from the song to 38 Special. In "Thrill Of Love," the ageless recipe is "Human equation: A + B." But what if you're part of a 27-person orgy? Do the letters become lowercase?

Maria Sharapova is a Russian who talks like an American. Nikita Koloff is an American who talks like a Russian. Beware of Bulgarian berries.

-Gunther 8544

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Simpletones- I Have a Date (Re-Force Records, 2002)

Nearly as unconscionable as Maxim leaving Christina Hendricks (who should have been #1 with the other 99 spots left vacant) off of its 2010 Hot 100 was the OC Weekly’s list of the 129 greatest Orange County bands of all-time completely omitting The Simpletones. Come on, man! Major points to y’all for putting the Adolescents in the top spot, but where’s the love for the Simpletones? I like the Stitches as much as the next guy, but isn’t #23 a little high (Smogtown would have been a far better contemporary choice)? And why are Lit and The Offspring on there? Did they think they were making a worst-of list?

If you start naming all the most underrated and overlooked bands of first wave punk, you turn to California and the list starts to fill up fast. While not as good as The Gears, or as important as The Dils, or as influential as The Crowd, The Simpletones may have been more underrated than all of the above. And considering that they were kind of a precursor to what would be later termed “pop-punk”, albeit with an authentic early punk edge, the Simpletones merit a special place in history. It’s absolutely shocking, then, that their music has not been kept in print. Immortalized on Poshboy’s 1979 Beach Blvd compilation, the Simpletones are loved by punk record collectors but completely unknown to the more casual fan.

I can’t tell you for sure if The Simpletones were an influence on the Descendents, but I’ll bet you a six-pack that Milo, Bill Stevenson, et al owned Beach Blvd and played it ‘til it wore out. While a number of bands beyond the sea were incorporating melody into the punk rock sound, the Simpletones were one of the only punk groups of their era to be overtly “pop” both in sound and sensibility, wearing a Beach Boys influence on their sleeves and writing songs about girls. But while these lads were typically hormonally-driven teens with designs on the fairer sex, they weren’t nice, clean-cut kids…they were punks! If the Beach Boys in the ‘60s typified the bright sun and innocent fun of Southern California life, the Simpletones were like their wayward sons a generation later – going to school high on drugs, chasing girls with all sorts of diseases, and unable to really enjoy the beach because of all the smog polluting the air. And although the band’s anthem “California” reads lyrically like an early Beach Boys song, it’s sung with such disdain and irony that it leaves no doubt that these kids believed they lived in a shithole. As redolent as “Tiger Beat Twist” and “Kirsty Q” may be of Dick Clark approved teen idol rock n’ roll, this was not your grandfather’s beach band. “I Have a Date” is so wholesome and cute on the surface, but you just know that this date is going to end not with a kiss on the front porch, but rather with a sordid coupling under the boardwalk or a drug binge at some stranger’s house. And like the Ramones, whom they clearly emulated, the Simpletones were not against using the three-minute pop song as a vehicle for twisted social commentary. Note the black-humored environmentalism of “Dead Meat (Killer Smog)" or the way-ahead-of-its-time statement “TV Love”.

Released eight years ago by the German imprint Re-Force, the 22-track I Have a Date gives you EVERYTHING the Simpletones recorded in their short time together – the Beach Blvd tracks, the “Kirsty Q” 45 (which was Poshboy #2 – how’s that for historic?!), and all sorts of outtakes, which if not quite first-rate, are still a hell of a lot of fun (e.g. “Nasty Nazi” and a disco rendition of the Dickies’ “You Drive Me Ape”). Featuring three different lead singers but held together by the songwriting and guitar work of Jay Lansford, these songs just sound like late '70s Orange County – the half-spoken vocals that manage to convey boredom and anger, the melodic sensibility that’s practically imbedded in the Californian’s DNA, the chip on your shoulder that can only come from having to watch wide-eyed tourists frantically descend upon the crap town that you cannot wait to leave. As such, these songs have as much in common with the Adolescents or early Social Distortion as they do with any modern pop-punk band you could name. The best of these songs – “I Like Drugs”, “I Have a Date”, “Don’t Bother Me” – are as classic as anything in the annals of punk rock. Considering that dozens upon dozens of lesser bands have been given the full reissue/anthology treatment, it seems high time for I Have a Date to return to print. In the meantime, happy hunting. Land yourself a copy of the 1991 CD reissue of Beach Blvd, and that'll do you just as well!

-Josh Rutledge

Pretenders- self-titled (Sire Records, 1980)

Having carried on the Pretenders for close to three decades as a quasi-solo act, Chrissie Hynde has had a fine career and left us with a number of outstanding, even classic songs. For my money, Hynde has the best singing voice in the history of rock, and she’s a kick-ass guitarist and gifted songwriter to boot. But what’s unfortunate is that few people remember the original Pretenders, a far different group from the one that gave us “Don’t Get Me Wrong” or “I’ll Stand By You”. For before Hynde became the queen of American adult contemporary rock, she was fronting one of the greatest bands to come out of the English punk/new wave scene of the late 1970s. Drug abuse literally killed this band, and after two excellent albums Hynde was left to pick up the pieces and carry on. Even a huge Hynde fan like me has to admit: without James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, the Pretenders were never truly the same.

Lead guitarist Honeyman-Scott died of a drug overdose on June 16th, 1982. Just two days prior, bassist Farndon had been kicked out of the band for excessive drug use. He too would OD, passing away in April of ’83. It’s impossible to know for sure how different later Pretenders recordings would have sounded if both men had lived, and it’s probably pointless to even wonder. Instead we can just be grateful for the two albums and one EP the original Pretenders did leave behind. In particular, that debut is a stone cold classic. There are plenty of bands out there with the longevity to have produced decades’ worth of material, and most of them would gladly trade all that quantity for one album as quality as the Pretenders’ first.

Formed in 1978, the Pretenders were comprised of Akron, Ohio expatriate Hynde and three Englishmen: Honeyman-Scott, Farndon, and drummer Gerry Mackleduff. Martin Chambers soon took over on drums, cementing the classic lineup that would play on the first two Pretenders albums. While not a “punk rock” album per se, the Pretenders’ debut is way punkier than a lot of records from that same era that are considered punk. What it has going for it, still, is that it captures one of the finest and most unique bands of its time at its very best. There are elements of punk and new wave in the mix for sure, but in a lot of ways it’s just straight-up rock n’ roll and pop – imagine a female-fronted ‘70s Rolling Stones with Television’s guitar stylings and The Who’s bass lines. Hynde’s voice hasn’t faltered with age, but back then she had the attitude, and she had a proper rock n’ roll band behind her to synch with all that sex and sass that came so effortlessly out of her mouth. Has there ever been a person in rock who was cooler than the 1980 version of Chrissie Hynde? No way! Yet this was no one-woman-show, as the band’s inspired playing (especially Honeyman-Scott’s outside-the-box guitar work) lifts legitimately great material to an even higher level. The record somehow manages to sound both distinctly late ‘70s-ish and completely timeless, reminding us that what made the new wave movement so great was not a particular sound but rather an explosion of talent and creativity. Long after the world has lost interest in the countless imitators, copyists, and third-rate knockoffs that cashed in on the new wave jackpot, people will still be listening to, and loving, the sterling slab of originality that is the first Pretenders LP.

“Brass in Pocket”, for good reason, has been in heavy rotation on at least one radio format since the day it was released. What’s baffling, though, is that classic rock playlists don’t include even more songs from Pretenders. Nearly every track on the record could have been a hit, and even the five-minute-plus “deep cuts” had the stuff to forever rule AOR radio. Perhaps the best two songs on the album, “Precious” and “Kid”, could not be more different – the former a smoldering fuck-you to closed-minded middle America, the latter a beautiful, vulnerable pop song completely devoid of irony or attitude. And while “Precious”, with its driving beat and off-the-charts ‘tude, is the tone-setter for this album and this band, “Kid” is probably the greatest Pretenders song ever - its melody infectious, Hynde’s vocal poignant and mesmerizing, and Honeyman-Scott’s guitar lines as flawless and pristine as a summer sunset. In the same vein, and just as lovely, is a remarkable cover of The Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing”, another high mark in the remarkable singing career of Chrissie Hynde.

What’s so pleasing about Pretenders is that songs like “Kid” and “Stop Your Sobbing”, so unlike anything else on the record, nonetheless manage to fit in perfectly. The group tries a little bit of everything, and it all falls into place smoothly. You want clanging, edgy new wave (“The Phone Call”)? You want “musicianship” to rival Rush (“Space Invader”)? You got it! While so much of the critically acclaimed femme-punk of the new wave era was either unlistenable rubbish (The Slits) or not even remotely punk (Patti Smith), “Tattooed Love Boys” is the real deal, brash and street-smart and power-packed to the end. “Private Life” is what The Police would have sounded like if they’d been any good. Built on one of the catchiest bass lines ever committed to tape, “Mystery Achievement” is a satisfying, slow-building epic of a rock song, and to this day the vocal gives me chills.

Anything that would have been considered “gimmicky” about the Pretenders in 1980 is irrelevant today. In our current social climate, there’s nothing revolutionary or even provocative about a female musician playing against traditional gender roles or espousing sexual frankness. Yet Pretenders, a full 30 years after its release, sounds as great as it ever did. Critics who pegged Hynde as some sort of feminist agenda-pusher were overanalyzing big-time. She never saw herself as a “woman in rock”. She was a person who rocked. Her greatness came not from her gender, but from her talent, charisma, and attitude. Her lyrics were sharp, honest, and bold. Her songs were well-crafted, unique, and impossible to get out of your head, especially after repeated listens. Her voice was as beautiful as anyone’s yet as tough as they came. All of that talent is evident on anything she’s ever recorded for the Pretenders, yet it shines brightest on this great first LP. It is not just one of the best debut albums ever, but also one of the greatest all-time rock albums, period. Respect!

-Josh Rutledge

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Troggs- The Best of The Troggs: The Millennium Collection (Island/Mercury, 2004)

The 20th Century Masters compilations put out by the Universal Music Group, while never close to comprehensive, are affordable and usually spot-on in their track selection. If you’re looking for ace B-sides or obscure album cuts that could have been hits, forget it. But if you just want the best-known songs of, say, Chuck Berry, The Jackson Five, or even Night Ranger, you could do a lot worse. One band that was perfect for this series was The Troggs, who could never beat contemporaries like The Who or Kinks if you compared their best 20 or 30 or 40 songs. But if you just go by their best ten songs, The Troggs were probably as good as any ‘60s band besides the Beatles and Stones. Lean and mean at just 11 tracks, and largely comprised of the group’s incredible run of UK hit singles from 1966-67, this particular best-of supports my argument that The Troggs are one of the most underrated rock n’ roll bands of all-time.

The Troggs formed in 1965 in the southern England town of Andover. Fronted by Reg Presley, notorious for his primal vocal style but highly underrated as a songwriter, the band was reputed to play a live cover of “You Really Got Me” that was even better than the original. A demo of this cover landed in the hands of Larry Page, who was managing the Kinks. A year later, Page, no longer working with The Kinks, would sign on to manage The Troggs. Page had produced some demos for The Kinks during their 1965 American tour, and this experience would allow him to make the most of The Troggs’ affinity for “You Really Got Me”. Serving as band manager and record producer for The Troggs, Page helped fashion the band’s raw, crunching guitar sound, which was somewhat of an anomaly in 1966, when mainstream rock was shifting away from the simplicity of the British Invasion and moving towards psychedelic and baroque pop complexities. The band was two years behind the times, and it must have seemed more like 20 given how quickly music was changing. In spite of that or maybe because of that, The Troggs would dominate the pop charts that year, hitting the UK top ten four times and scoring #1 singles on both sides of the pond.

“Wild Thing”, composed by American songwriter Chip Taylor (Angelina Jolie’s uncle!), had flopped for The Wild Ones in 1965. But a year later The Troggs made it their own, turning it into a thumping masterpiece of fuzzed-out three-chord rock n’ roll, replete with an ocarina solo and perhaps the heaviest guitars ever heard on record at the time. Having missed with their debut single “Lost Girl”, The Troggs would suffer no such letdown this time around. “Wild Thing” shot to #1 in the States, and peaked at #2 in the UK. And they were just getting started! Followup “With a Girl Like You”, an upbeat British Invasion throwback, topped the UK charts. The brazenly sexual proto-punker “I Can’t Control Myself” was another UK smash, going all the way to #2. And to close out 1966, The Troggs would once more crack the Top Ten with “Any Way That You Want Me”. In ’67, the band struck again with “Give It To Me” (#12 UK) and the eerie, brilliant Stones rip-off “Night of the Long Grass” (#17). Branching out from their garage/British Invasion signature style, the group really hit the jackpot with the ballad “Love Is All Around”. Hitting the airwaves at the height of flower power, this pretty number made the top ten in the UK and the US. It was the band’s last big hit (although they’d continue to make records for years!), and probably rates historically as the very first “power ballad”.

Like any good Troggs comp does, The Best of The Troggs corrects the American misperception of the band as a “two hit wonder”. It includes all seven of the band’s ’66-’67 chart smashes, plus the killer B-sides “From Home” (the flip to “Wild Thing”) and “I Want You” (the flip to “With a Girl Like You”). The only truly essential song missing is the band’s ferocious version of the garage rock standard “I Can Only Give You Everything”, left off in favor of the ballads “Little Girl” and “You Can Cry If You Want To”. The rock guy in me could do without any of the ballads, and would prefer another early B-side like “Gonna Make You” or the proto-glam of 1970’s “Lover”. But come on – you can’t properly represent The Troggs without including the ballads (Just ask REM!). And the ones here (especially “You Can Cry If You Want To”, later covered beautifully by The Muffs) are pretty fantastic as far as ballads go, their overt sappiness matched by truly magnificent melodies.

The Troggs may not have had the sheer quantity of great tunes to rival the A-listers of ‘60s British rock, nor did they have the underground “garage” cred of American acts like The Sonics and Standells. But if you asked me to name the one band from the ‘60s that sounded the most like punk rock, I’d say The Troggs. If “You Really Got Me” is the root of all proto-punk, then “Wild Thing” and “I Can’t Control Myself” took it a step further. The Troggs didn’t invent rock n’ roll, but probably played it more primitively and salaciously than any band had thought to before. The MC5 were huge fans, and even covered “I Want You” on Kick Out The Jams. That the group took to a three-chord “caveman rock” ethos at a time when every other band out there was trying to be “progressive” was not lost on Troggs fans The Ramones, who’d do the very same thing a decade later, forever changing music in the process. But while it’s very easy to get lost in the “importance” of The Troggs, this was not one of those “critics’ bands” that you appreciate for its influence but hate to actually listen to! The Best of The Troggs, or any Troggs comp for that matter, is an absolute treat for the ears. Take in its well-selected blend of pounding proto-punk, sunny British Invasion pop, and top-notch ballads, and within the hour you may find yourself lobbying to get The Troggs in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame!

-Josh Rutledge

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Spits - s/t (Nickel And Dime, 2001)

Being married to a wonderful Big Beautiful Woman is something I wouldn't trade for every great album in the world. Can T. Rex's The Slider compare to a shared meal of mini cheeseburgers with my sweetie? Get that thought outta the Buick, MacKane! Is KISS' Dressed To Kill better than the sight of my baby in a summer dress? Take that suggestion on a permanent getaway, Ace! Jeff Dahl's Ultra Under versus wrapping my sleepyhead under the covers? Go dig Iggy's dirt, dude! Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation or the girl of my dreams who's a daily reality? Carry yourself back to the sprawl, Kim! Is The Feelies' Only Life more important than our promise to love each other for life? Not on Lou's cursor, Glenn Mercer! The best thing about my wife? She lets me keep the music in a spare bedroom! Kids? To us, that's a punk band from Belgium. Too many of my friends' better(?) halves have forced their mates into arrangements of dumping their collections in dark storage
units. If your woman resembles the Christine character from CBS' "Yes, Dear", please go along with her Jack Rabbit request. Sure, being apart from treasured vinyl sucks harder than Les Claypool's band, but the trade-off's tremendous. "Christine's" shiny hair will feel softer in your hands than a clean copy of Underwater Moonlight. Her lips and tongue will amaze in ways greater than hearing Exile On Main Street on a $30,000 turntable. Conversely, if you're constantly hen-pecked by a fowl creature who could double as Marcy D'Arcy's twin parakeet, take your records and run, Jefferson! Go to Peg. Go to Kelly. Go to the nudie bar. Be like Steve and leave that dirty bird in her nest. Let the scrawny sparrow lose another wedding ring down Zorro's pants. Frankly, Jefferson, Marcy ain't worth ostrich spit.

Talking saliva, Seattle's The Spits would have nary a problem with using the Space Needle to poke out Ms. D'Arcy's eyeballs. If your ears weren't filled with a sticky lubricant that the keyboard robot (labeled R2 WD40 in the pic I've got) uses to refresh rusty parts, perhaps they'd hear nods to the Ramones, Screamers, and Black Randy And The Metrosquad. However, lifts from punk legends are only part of the story. Remember 24-7 Spyz? No? Well, leave it to The Spits to jog your memory back to 1989. Under the handle 24-7 Spits, they use dreadlocks, shorts, and shoe polish as means of paying tribute to the thrash-funk gods. If Nell Carter were alive today, she would smack every member of The Spits. Or sit on them. Perhaps she REALLY wanted to hear "Grandma Dynamite"! Given that break, the band would modify Nell's ass prints into mohawks, fake mustaches, sunglasses, and sleeveless denim vests. Two cast members of "Reno 911" are smiling and offering their services as seamstresses. Every band needs one. Ask Elton. When asked by an interviewer whom he'd turn into a robot, guitarist Sean said, "My ex-girlfriend. If I could turn her into a robot so I could reprogram her to say stupid shit when I wanted to hear it instead of when I didn't want to hear it." On why he doesn't skate, the robot replied, "I weigh five tons. It's kinda hard to stay on a board. I keep breaking them." Regarding relations with a band mate's ex-girlfriend, bassist Aaron said, "Yeah. I slept with one of Sean's ex-girlfriends. Knowingly. She wasn't really a girlfriend, though. More like a fuck buddy. So I've dipped the familiar, yeah."

At Norcom High School in Portsmouth, VA, the "Dropout" rate far exceeds the statewide average. To combat this, the lowest grade a student can receive on a quiz or test is 50. In band classes at the school, songs write themselves without the handling of instruments. The Spits are insanely jealous. At one point in 1986, all I wanted from my mom was money for a Hosoi skateboard. She wouldn't give it to me. These days, I only "SK8" with my nephew's finger toys. While attending Churchland Junior High School, a classmate of mine misplaced his retainer in the lunchroom's trash. Shortly afterward, he 86'd himself. Had the boy had more forgiving parents, he wouldn't have had to "Die Die Die." I greatly miss my "Black Kar." It was a 1987 Chrysler New Yorker. It had a sunroof. It had an Intellivision-like voice module that said things like, "Your fuel is low." It was a babe magnet. Betty White will be hosting an NBC program this "Saturday Nite." Betcha two dollars there'll be a "Golden Girls"-related skit. There should be more information about Rue McClanahan in the papers and magazines. I'm sure you agree with me on this. Studies show that more people fret over losing their "Remote Kontrol" than losing touch with a friend or loved one. I've watched a total of roughly five minutes of "Grey's Anatomy." The scene I saw was lesbian in nature. It was sorta hot. When my wife's not in the room, I become "Tired And Lonely." It sucks hugging a pillow and pretending it's a woman. "I H8 Pussies"? You gay? You ball? You rode the pie? "Suzy's Face" is the one Joe Namath wanted to kiss. Don't blame him, but I'm more of a Shelley Smith/Linda Cohn kinda guy.

Let me take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the many blissful years of matrimony. I love you, random issue of Over 40 magazine (pages 56-61)!

-Gunther 8544

Friday, May 7, 2010

Kix- self-titled (Atlantic Records, 1981)

“They were a band that was ripped to shreds on Beavis and Butthead at the height of grunge pc overkill, yet still managed to nail the number 5 spot with their debut album in Chuck Eddy's obviously inconsistent book Stairway To Hell - The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums In The Universe. The book is inconsistent, of course, because KIX should have been higher on the fucking list!”
-Adam Turkel

Kix’s debut is not only one of the most underrated hard rock albums of its time but also one of the most unique recordings to ever be lumped into the “hair metal” category. Surely informed by the obvious forebears (AC/DC, Zeppelin, Priest) but also strongly influenced by early Cheap Trick, the New York Dolls, and the burgeoning new wave pop movement, Kix infused smarts, humor, and lots of pop hooks into the hard rock form. Based out of Hagerstown, Maryland, the group gigged the mid-Atlantic relentlessly in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, its live show so dynamic and entertaining that a few kids from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania sought to copy it to a T. Those kids were Bret Michaels, Rikki “Rockett” Ream, and Bobby “Dall” Kuykendall, who would proceed to “borrow” Kix’s look and moves, form a band called Paris, relocate to California, re-name themselves Poison (which happens to be a Kix song title…Hmmm), and make millions doing an inferior version of the act that had so enthralled them. So not only do we have Kix to thank for indirectly begetting quality TV like Rock of Love Bus, but also we have the band’s music to enjoy. Unlike so much of what was passed off as “metal” in the big label money-grab of the 1980s, Kix still sounds great when you put it on!

So big was the underground buzz on the hard-touring Kix that the group not only secured a major label deal but also had the opportunity to work with Tom Allom, who’d produced Judas Priest’s British Steel and Def Leppard’s On Through the Night (and sound engineered all the early Black Sabbath LPs). And while it wouldn’t be accurate to list Kix as one of Allom’s signature jobs, the production does beef up the band’s pop leanings. It does sound a little like Allom was trying to jam these square pegs from Maryland into the round hole of British metal, but the band’s quirks shine through anyway. “Atomic Bombs” kicks off with amped-up, wall-shaking power chords; but just when you’re ready to start banging your head, the song quickly transforms into something that could have been an In Color B-side! Like his contemporary Tom Keifer, Steve Whiteman could really fucking sing, his voice a powerhouse blend of Robert Plant and Robin Zander, his style cheeky and sly like Bon Scott. With Whiteman’s voice, and a fine slate of songs largely penned by bassist Donnie Purnell, Kix had the stuff to be a different kind of band. And Kix is a different kind of record! From the slamming adrenaline rush of “Kix Are for Kids” to the pure new wave of “Heartache” to the almost-punk of “The Kid” to the epic storytelling of the classic rock staple (well, it is my hometown!) “Yeah Yeah Yeah”, Kix is all over the place here, in an entirely good way! “Contrary Mary” sounds like The Knack covering The Beatles with AC/DC’s Young brothers sitting in on guitar. “The Itch” is completely stupid, perhaps even moronic, yet so fun and wildly infectious that it implores you to push the repeat button. Could all of this killer material have benefited from a slightly less "metal" production? Perhaps. But who cares?!

Kix, in spite of finding itself smack dab in the midst of pop metal’s commercial blowup, was never quite photogenic or pandering enough to cash in. Legendary is the tale of the band going out to California and having to open for Poison, watching in disbelief as the crowd went wild for this crap band that had cloned their act down to the letter. Label pressure for a “hit” record led to slightly ill-fated tweaks like the use of “professional” songwriters on 1983’s new wavey Cool Kids, the enlistment of cheesy hair metal producer Beau Hill for 1985’s Midnight Dynamite, and the 1988 release of the horrific power ballad “Don’t Close Your Eyes”(a #11 chart hit my senior year of high school!). Yet in spite of its employer’s relentless attempts to turn the band into a saleable hair band cartoon, Kix managed to make one good album after another, its talent and hard rock authenticity impossible to subdue. The strong sales of Blow My Fuse (#46 Billboard) and Hot Wire (#67, in spite of coming out just as Nirvana was delivering glam metal’s death blow) may have ultimately rewarded the folks at Atlantic, but to its credit the band never veered from its blend of classic hard rock and new wavey pop. You can spin the roulette wheel of Kix titles, and anywhere you land, you’ll win. But the place to start is the first album. Just ask Chuck Eddy!

-Josh Rutledge