Dollar-bin Aesthetics

“And now, alive for a half-century, somehow weathering an increasingly bleak and unlikely to recover rock-writing doldrums wherein fewer and fewer paying publications have any interest in publishing criticism that isn’t phoned in, I can honestly say that I’m as excited about listening to music as I’ve ever been. Austin is an amazing mythical land of awesome $1 vinyl bins and garage sales and record conventions, and now that CDs are speedily approaching their historical end zone and college students who’ve only ever downloaded MP3s are suddenly all buying used turntables again, piling up on old vinyl somehow doesn’t feel so anachronistic anymore. So between falling for new music by Collin Raye, Us Jswe Doma, Traband, Scooter, Ke$ha, Jace Everett, Flynnville Train, Luther Lackey, Bigg Robb, and This Moment in Black History, I’m falling for old music by Benny, D.C. Larue, Good Rats, Christ Child, Charlie Rich, Hank Thompson, the Delmore Brothers, the Mystics, the Headboys, Head East, Millie Jackson, Pebbles, Joe Tex, Andrae Crouch and the Disciples, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, the Fatback Band, Steve Gibbons Band, Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band, Kevin Coyne, Chris Rea, Tonio K, Yesterday & Today, Riot, Pat Travers, and Axe. Few of whom you’ll find mentioned anywhere in this book. Though if any generous publisher out there needs a record guide to awesome dollar-bin LPs nobody’s ever heard of, please give me a call.”
– Chuck Eddy, introduction to Rock and Roll Always Forgets

I’m just making my way through Eddy’s book now. Barely even read a quarter of it yet, and I’m sort of jumping around all over the place (the introductions to the various sections are superb, particularly the hip-hop/r&b intro, which I hope to say more about eventually). But what a contrast to jump from the Ellen Willis and Paul Nelson books to this. Willis and Nelson, as I’ve already noted, emerged in an era where it was not uncommon for a rock critic to obsessively track the work of a few key artists (in Willis’s case, Reed, Dylan, Jagger, and Joplin; in Nelson’s case, Jackson Browne, Neil, Dylan, and Zevon). Even Greil Marcus sometimes gets flack from younger fans of rock writing for his obsessive interest in the work of Dylan, the Mekons, Costello, et al. Eddy certainly has his fave raves — Def Leppard and Teena Marie come to mind, sort of — but I don’t think he devotes more than a single chapter to anyone here; he definitely has always struck me much more as a guy who keeps closer tabs on genres than on artists. (I’m not saying anything remotely surprising; it’s kind of one of the themes of his second book, The Accidental Evolution of Rock ‘n Roll). Again, it just struck me: this is as far in approach as you can get, I think, from Ellen Willis and Paul Nelson (and Marcus… though not Christgau, at least not totally).

I’m also thinking of Chuck’s words above and wondering how they might or might not relate to what Simon Reynolds, in Retromania, is describing as a “malaise,” resulting, presumably, from the over-glut of everything (we’ve got the whole world in our hands; now what do we do?). I’m also thinking that I wouldn’t mind having back the ten minutes it just took me to transcribe all those bands Chuck mentions, 90% of whom I’ve never even heard of (.03% of whom I may conceivably hear something by some day).

7 thoughts on “Dollar-bin Aesthetics

  1. I don’t think he devotes more than a single chapter to anyone here

    Hmmm… I’m not sure what you mean by “chapter,” but there are two consecutive pieces each (i.e., one piece immediately following another one) about the Ramones, Metallica, Eminem, and Michael Jackson.

    Anyway, glad you’re reading it! Carry on…

  2. Uh, by “chapter” I mean “essay” (or “piece”), and of course I should’ve taken 20 seconds to verify this statement before publishing it (haven’t read any of those parts yet).

  3. I have never heard an album by the Good Rats, but assuming that it’s the same Good Rats that Chuck lists, I did see and hear them open for the New York Dolls in Kingston Rhode Island in 1973. I possibly recall the lead singer at times holding a baseball bat. The bat was meant to reference baseball, not whacking people. I also possibly recall that their instrumental lines intertwining rather than just piling one atop the other. And definitely recall the lead singer having issues with the sound man.

  4. Almost definitely one and the same Good Rats, given the apparent sports-fan angle (plus, I’m not aware of any alternate Good Rats.) Here’s something I wrote about an album by the Good Rats that I like, on ILM’s Rolling Hard Rock thread in 2008:

    Can’t speak for their other albums, but on first listen, From Rats to Riches is great. A lot heavier than I would have guessed, and more lyrically and structurally eccentric (almost in a Crack The Sky kind of way) than I figured from supoosed bar band hacks, with sonic influences running the gamut from doo-wop to prog to maybe even punk (this was ’78). Flo and Eddie produced, by the way. Favorite songs so far: “Taking It To Detroit” (about how they’re gonna play Cobo Hall like “Kiss and Seger” and make it huge, which of course never happened — well, they may have played Cobo Hall, I’m not sure, but if so I don’t think it helped much, and I don’t know of this actually getting airplay in Detroit, though after Bowie and J. Geils and Kiss had scored on Detroit radio with hard-rocking Detroit songs, you can see why they tried); “Mr. Mechanic” (probably the heaviest and fastest song on the album, maybe a progenitor of ZZ Top’s “Manic Mechanic,” though more likely not but it kills regardless); “Victory in Space” (a pomp-rocking plea to the “ladies of the universe”), “Don’t Hate the Ones Who Bring You Rock and Roll” (a weird and at least passingly homophobic rocker — starts out “Son of a bitch let me rip his eyes out/Prancing around like a faggot/Painted up ass like to pull his pants down/Shoot off his works/Then I’d like to bag it — feed it to a maggot,” and you’re like what the fuck, but then by the end he’s saying “Twisted mothers, twisted brothers, twisted sisters,” so I’m wondering whether this was a feud with Dee Snider song! Or maybe I’m misreading it and they were on the same side rather than rivals; I’m not sure. Twisted Sister were a big Long Island bar band too right?); “Local Zero” (a blue-collar Catholic song — “Who can quit near our daughters’ communion” — that seems both anti-boss and anti-union — maybe their local was going to go on strike and they were worried about going broke?) Not sure what their day jobs were, but they are pretty homely and beefy regular suburban Joes with beards and Jewfros and sports jerseys on the LP cover, and it’s pretty wacky how they’re emerging out of dry ice on stage with that big inflatable football on the back. The album doesn’t look “terrible” to me; looks awesome. And I’d say the music lives up to the promise. (Like I said, don’t know their other LPs at all. University of Missouri’s radio station KCOU used to play “Back To My Music” off of Tasty from 1974, and I remember it being a lot more hippie-freak choogly and good-timey in a pleasant but run-of-the-mill way than this album. Not sure how typical that cut was. Also wondering if they got any rock airplay at all outside of New York and maybe Jersey; according to Joel Whitburn, not a single one of their albums even cracked the Top 200, which is pretty astounding for guys who I’ve always heard had a decent local following, and who clearly kept at it for a decent length of time. Christgau gave Tasty a C- “what can you say about a band admirers claim is the best to emerge from Long Island since Vanilla Fudge”; they don’t show up in any of the Rolling Stone Record Guide books, not even the first red one. Jasper and Oliver in The International Encyclopedia of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal love them, though — “The music is a mixture of raw aggressive metal, often tinged with weird jazzy overtones. It is always of high quality, and they are worth their weight in gold.” Doubly impressive, because on the album cover I got, they definitely aren’t skinny guys, so that gold would weigh a lot!)

    And then I followed up three years later (2011 installment of the same thread) with this:

    Man, just played Good Rats’ From Rats To Riches from 1978 again, first time in a year and a half, and I’m sorry George, I fucking LOVE that album – especially “Taking It To Detroit,” “Mr. Mechanic,” “Don’t Hate The Ones Who Bring You Rock & Roll,” and “Local Zero.” Suddenly I want to start looking for all their other records. We were talking about possible U.S. equivalents of Max Webster upthread, and I swear, judging from this album, these guys probably fit the bill as much as Crack the Sky do. Plus, like Max Webster (and unlike Crack The Sky), they never charted in Billboard! Still want somebody to tell me what the deal is with their namedrop of Twisted Sister in that “…Rock & Roll” song. Also seems interesting that the album came out on Passport — wasn’t that mainly the house label for import distributor Jem? Based in South Plainfield, I know, but still seems exotic for a bunch of butt-ugly Long Island dudes. (Probably there were other Middle Atlantic acts on the imprint, but if so they’re slipping my mind right now.) Anyway, here’s what I wrote about the album in 2008; still rings true.

    George Smith and Scott Seward also commented about them; links here:

    IIrc, Richard Riegel is also an admitted fan of the band (or was, at one time — maybe he even wrote a Rock-A-Rama or two on them!)

  5. You remember correctly, Chuck. I was NUTZ about the Good Rats in the late ’70s, which led to me meeting the band twice and writing them up in CREEM a couple of times.

    Their first album, “The Good Rats” (gatefold cover of a giant white rat w/ halo — get it?) came out on Kapp way back in 1968 or ’69. I found it in a cutout sale around 1974, and discovered it contained a great, great Long Island garage rocker (more “punk” than the Rascals, even) entitled “Joey Ferrari”.

    Fast forward to the summer of 1976 — my fellow Cincy rockwriter Brad Balfour phoned me from Bogart’s one evening, said the Good Rats were ready to play there, but there were only (literally) 8 people in the club, could I come over to beef up the ranks? So I did, met the Rats and scored their new “Ratcity in Blue” album while we were waiting for a quorum to assemble. They finally played to a very select audience,

  6. (continued) good show with all the hardedged barband moves they’d mastered playing My Father’s Place in Long Island every week for years. I wrote up the Good Rats in a Beat Goes On (mini feature) in the Nov. ’76 CREEM.

    Then I reviewed their “From Rats to Riches” album (your fave!) in the July ’78 CREEM. Around the time the review appeared, the Good Rats played a concert at the Agora in Cleveland, and Teresa and I motored up to catch it. Respectable crowd this time, good show as always. Backstage afterward, Lead singer Peppi Marchello (he of the baseball bats) read part of my review out loud to us, stumbling over the big words as if he didn’t know them, though I always suspected he was more of an intellectual than I was, judging by all those mysterious & intriguing complexities in the Good Rats’ songs.

    Do you ever listen to “Car Talk” on NPR? That show’s sibling hosts, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, have reminded me of the Rats’ Peppi and Mickey Marchello forever — they displayed that very same sarcastic smartypants Italian-American vibe. Lots of good listening, verbally and musically.

    Unfortunately, both the music industry in general and I in particular lost touch with the Good Rats after the ’70s were over. I still have five of their albums (all LP’s, of course) on hand, and I’m hungry to listen to them again, now that you’ve stirred up so many tasty (so to speak) memories.

  7. It’s FINALLY hit me, after I constructed that veritable rat maze of words about a band I liked in my critical youth, that Scott may have rendered the title of this thread in American vernacular, for the benefit of us south-of-the-border types. In the original Canadian, it would have been “Looney-bin Aesthetics”(!) Jeez! I walked right into that one . . .

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