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Monday, April 5, 2021

Bands That Deserved Better, Part 2

European Rock Circa 1978-1980
By Joseph W. Perry

The late 1970s through the early 1980s were interesting years for rock music. Punk rock, new wave, and no wave were rising in popularity and making more traditional forms of rock seem old hat and out of vogue. Some bands that relied on traditional blues or boogie riffs were dismissed as dinosaurs, while others playing the same style of music were embraced as cutting-edge purists. Unfortunately for some bands, fickle record labels looking for The Next Big Thing and fans who leaned too heavily on following trends ignored or missed out on some groups that weren’t easily categorized. Sometimes poor management was to blame for low record sales.

For this installment of “Bands That Deserved Better,” I’m going to discuss five European bands - focusing on their debut U.S. albums, with one exception - that fell between the cracks in the American market. They sometimes did the same in their home countries, while some groups still soldier on to this day. They should have all been international superstars in my humble opinion, and I hope that if you haven’t heard them before, you will give them a try and perhaps find some new favorite bands --- better late than never!

Fabulous Poodles
Far more than just another post-pub-rock band, Fabulous Poodles was a British quartet that had a unique look and style, clever lyrics, songs that were quirky and catchy, and a great deal of talent. Nicknamed the “Fab Poos,” this guitar-based band had the secret weapon in the electric violin (sometimes with voice box!) and mandolin wizardry of Bobby Valentino. Mirror Stars (1978), their first American album, combined tracks from their first two British albums, the first of which was produced by The Who’s John Entwistle. Lead vocalist and guitarist Tony de Meur cowrote most of the band’s songs, with other members pitching in on occasion. Rounding out the quartet were the marvelous rhythm section of Richie Robertson on bass and Bryn Burrows on drums. 

At the time, I considered the band’s lyrics to be the wryest I had heard since the first several Sparks albums, and they are still hard to beat. What teenaged boy couldn’t relate to the protagonist of “Mirror Star,” “a lonely boy, no good at sport,” who dreams of becoming a rock musician while lip synching and playing air guitar in his bedroom instead of studying? “Work Shy” is a nearly universally relatable ditty, and “Tit Photographer Blues” is a classic “Always the bridesmaid but never the bride” tale with perhaps a few more perks than usual. “Chicago Boxcar (Boston Back)” offers coiffure tips that ensure success in virtually all areas of life. The band’s sense of humor is playfully alive throughout their oeuvre. If you’re in the mood for some feel-good alternative pop with an occasional side order of ironic whimsy, you would be hard-pressed to find a better listen than Mirror Stars.

On a side note, I was fortunate enough to see Fabulous Poodles headline a show at San Francisco’s Old Waldorf club supporting their debut American album, and it remains to this day one of the most amazing live shows I have ever seen. I still recall de Meur introducing one of the songs with a tale of a young couple in the early stages of romance who share hot buttered popcorn at the movies. The story was so saccharine sweet that it drew sighs of appreciation from the audience. Then de Meur finished the story with the punch line, “That’s what love is all about . . . getting sticky fingers.” 

“Mirror Star” live in concert:

“Work Shy”:

“Chicago Boxcar (Boston Back)”:

The Inmates
The Inmates combined pub-rock blues boogie with a dash of rhythm and blues, as well as a touch of early Rolling Stones and other British Invasion acts. Their 1979 debut “First Offence” sounds like it could have been recorded 15 years or so earlier, and I mean that it in the best possible way. This British band unapologetically brought the music that influenced it smack dab into the new wave and punk era without making any changes. 

The Inmates had a minor hit internationally, including in the States, with their cover of The Standells’ “Dirty Water”; their single “The Walk” hit the top 40 in their homeland. Bill Hurley’s gritty vocals were a perfect fit for the band’s slick, meaty sound with Peter Gunn on lead guitar, Tony Oliver on rhythm guitar, Ben Donnelly on bass, and Eddie Edwards on drums.  As refreshingly retro now as it was when released, “First Offence” is a toe-tapping, singing-along blast.

“Love Got Me”:

“Dirty Water”:

“The Walk”:

No Dice
Speaking of bands influenced by R&B and early Rolling Stones, next up is British band No Dice, which brought its sound more into the new wave and punk arena while staying true to its roots. The result was an American self-titled debut album that boasted audacious vocals and even an affected yawn from Peaches (whose name was altered from Roger Ferris on the U.K. version of the album --- more on that shortly); catchy bass hooks from Gary Strange, who also wrote all of the tracks on the U.S. version; solid drumming from Kitty Wyles (Chris Wyles on the U.K. version); tasty keyboards from Dave Moore; and all manner of guitar wizardry from Deezal (Dave Martin on the U.K. version).

You may well be wondering what gives with all of those name changes. It seems that No Dice’s American label was intent on pushing the band as having more of a punk/new wave edge to it, including the new, supposedly edgier names for its members. Those were not the only differences between the U.K. and U.S. releases of No Dice’s eponymous debut; though. The covers are quite different. The U.K. version has three pictures of a woman wrist tossing a man in a suit to the ground, while the American cover shows the band in suits and leather jackets with mug shots behind them. Also, the American release has 9 tracks, while the U.K. version has 11 --- and the two releases have only 5 tracks in common. 

I have many years of experience listening to the American version and can recommend it as being chock full of clever lyrics, punchy arrangements, catchy songs, and top-notch musicianship. “Why Sugar,” the opening song on each version, has two very different, separately recorded versions between those two releases; for example, the American version has soulful female backing vocals while the U.K. version has only male backing vocals. The lead vocals and guitar solos are also quite different, and the U.K. intro has some lead guitar licks that the U.S. version doesn’t. There are other differences that you can hear for yourself at the links below, but what the two versions do have in common are some lyrics that I really enjoy: “If you didn’t notice/I’m wearing those stupid blue jeans you like/Anything to please you, sugar/So you’ll melt in my arms tonight,” and “If I were a pauper, girl/I’d wear those brand new rags for you, babe/But I’m still good for a quid/But I can’t afford a broken heart/So be gentle, now.” 

The marketing strategy didn’t seem to help much and the band went through some lineup changes before breaking up in the very early 1980s after a second album and two independently released singles. Fast forward to 2012, when four of the original members met for the first time in a long while and decided to do a reunion show. It went well and the band made plans to do another one in 2015. 

“Why Sugar,” American album version:

“Why Sugar,” U.K. album version:

“Happy in the Skoolyard”:

“Silly Girl”:

New Adventures 
The Dutch trio New Adventures only had their powerful, self-titled debut album released in the States, though they continued recording over the years, with their most recent release being Station Zero from 2014. The band delivered hard-edged, straightforward, blues rock in spades on its debut, with Peter Bootsman on guitar and vocals, Harry de Winter on bass and vocals, and Henk Torpedo on drums. There is an occasional punk edge to some of the tunes. 

“Come On” live on Countdown:

“Right to Cry”:

“If Your Momma Don’t Like It”:

U.K. trio Taxxi has arguably the most then-modern sound of these five bands for the time period, with synthesizers to complement the power chords, grooving bass lines (from guest session musician Randy Jackson), and solid beats. Guitarist/vocalist David Cumming, keyboardist Colin Payne, and drummer/lyricist Jeffrey Nead moved from London to San Francisco and secured a record deal there. Their second album, States of Emergency, was filled with songs that should have been big hits, with a sound that has one foot in solid rock territory and the other in the new wave arena, with lyrical content ranging from joyful to acerbic.

Taxxi released four albums total, with the latter three each boasting one single that cracked the Billboard  Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, including “I’m Leaving” from their sophomore effort, which peaked at #39. With the solid core of talent and strong songwriting the trio had, States of Emergency should have catapulted the band into international stardom.

“I’m Leaving”:

“Cocktail Queen”:

“Girl (New York City)”:

This installment is the second in a planned series meant to bring wider attention to musical acts or albums I have enjoyed throughout the decades that, for various reasons, didn’t receive as much exposure in their day as I feel they should have. Future articles in the series will include power pop acts, 1980s new wave singers and bands, hard rock acts of the 1970s and 1980s, and a few surprises.

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