[The debut edition of “Real Life Rock Top 10” in the Voice]
1. Reducers: “Let’s Go,” from the sampler Epic Presents the Unsigned (Epic)
Most of the stuff here is novelty-record cute; this pained nervous stomp is part ’56 rockabilly, part ’64 British Invasion, part ’77 punk–timeless. Chasing themselves out of their hometown of New London, Connecticut, to Paris to Texas to Munich, the Reducers just want to get out of here, and then get out of there. They only have to name a place to leave it.
2. Billy Ocean: “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” (Jive/Arista)
This piece of radio fodder isn’t “Billie Jean,” but it’s a beautifully layered conversation–after a hundred shots on the radio, the female chorus seems to be made up of real people. As for the line about “Your love is like a slow train coming”–is that what Bob Dylan meant?
3. Godzilla (Takara, Japan)
It was established long ago that all Japanese rock ‘n’ roll derives from Godzilla movies; at one and one-half inches high, this rubber monster spits fire when you rev its wheels, then runs flat out for 50 feet when you let it go, which is more than you can say for most Japanses rock ‘n’ roll. About $4 in better weird-toy, comix, or sci-fi stores.
4. W.T. Lhamon Jr: “Little Richard as a Folk Performer,” in Studies in Popular Culture, VIII:2, 1985 (c/o Gary L. Harmon, Department of Language and Literature, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, Florida 33216)
“One of the more obscuring claims critics make about the origins of rock music,” Lhamon begins, “is that individual genius conceived it.” Little Richard Penniman was not sui generis, Lhamon goes on: he was a product of the late ’40s/early ’50s “milieu of afternoon bars, minstrel shows, gay clubs, carny midways, folk patois, blues lyrics, road bonding, and the postwar leisure of Northern soldiers bored in Southern towns.” Lhamon proves his case in frightening detail–at least, the way he traces Richard’s “Miss Ann” to a 16th century British nursery rhyme frightens me–and he’s just as strong making sense of the explosively new appeal of Richard’s presumptively old story. On the originally obscene “Tutti Frutti” in 1955 “…the puns on ‘Sue’ and ‘Daisy’ titilated uninitiated audiences simply as references to good opposite-sex partners. At another level in these days of desegregation, Daisy and Sue were racially moot names… Was Little Richard probing the delights of miscegenated sex? At a third level, and to other audiences, Daisy and Sue were knowing referents to drag queens; in the clubs Little Richard had presented himself as Princess Lavonne. In seeming to sanitize ‘Tutti Frutti’ [producer Bumps] Blackwell, [co-writer Dorothy] La Bostrie, and Penniman had instead sublimated it with small nodes of latent excitement. Most audiences probably did not suspect any of this… but the singer knew, Blackwell knew, and so did the musicians… Their performance took on a licentious exuberance commensurate to their release from restraint.” In other words, rock ‘n’ roll began as a code its new fans didn’t know they were deciphering–a code that deciphered them.
5. Lime: “Say You Love Me” from Unexpected Lovers (TSR)
Shirley and Lee go disco–except this isn’t Shirley and Lee. But Denyse Le Page has Shirley’s impossibly high, quavering voice, and 30 years after “Let the Good Times Roll” or 11 after “Shame, Shame, Shame,” it will do.
6. Sam Cooke: “Just for You,” from The Man and His Music (RCA reissue, 1956-1964)
According to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop 1955-1982, this exquisitely syncopated 1961 ballad, Cooke’s only release on his own S.A.R. label, never made the charts–which is either Whitburn’s first documented mistake, or God’s latest.
7. The Costello Show (featuring Elvis Costello): “Brand New Hairdo” (CBS)
Not on the new King of America, and nothing like it, either: fast, noisy, and nasty.
8. Bette Midler: “You Belong to Me,” in Down and Out in Beverly Hills (Buena Vista)
9. Sandy Denny: Who Knows Where the Time Goes? (Hannibal reissue, 1967-77)
Four LPs in a box, much unreleased material, not all of it terrific–merely those moments (“Tam Lin,” “Listen, Listen,” “Autopsy”) where all that “folk rock” was supposed to mean was put into play.
10. Loyal Jones: Minstrel of the Appalachians–The Story of Bascom Lamar Lunsford (Appalachian Consortium Press, Boone, North Carolina, $10.95, available from Down Home Music Company, 10341 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito, Caliornia 94539
In 1924 a North Carolina lawyer named Bascom Lamar Lunsford (1882-1973) recorded a traditional mountain ballad called “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground”; six decades later, the marriage of fatalism and desire in his performance defines American mysticism, as it likely would have done six decades before. According to this book, everything Lunsford did was interesting, and so is everything in this book.
Village Voice, February 18, 1986