Sunday, November 20, 2016

Random groovy tunes...

No rhyme, no reason, a sample of some cuts getting a spin...

The name RUN WESTY RUN will garner a variety of reactions from dear readers. I can only gather that the majority one will be a befuddled WHO? Others will wonder why on earth I'm scraping the bottom of the SST barrel by giving them any coverage whatsoever. And there will be a few true believers who will acknowledge that their self-titled debut LP from 1988 - whilst no classic in this or any alternate universe - can at least boast a couple of pretty bumper tunes in a kinda forgettable late-'80s college-rock vein. Yes, I'm damning it with some faint praise there, but praise it still is. There's this cut, 'Curled Ending', which for me is the highlight of the disc in question, always the track I go for when I pull the LP off the shelf for its annual spin, and since it's on YouTube, I probably don't even need to go to that much effort anymore. I read somewhere that Grant Hart recommended the band to Ginn/Dukowski and co., the band being Minneapolis natives who were mining a kind of late-period Replacements/Huskers vein (certainly not the most inspiring period for either band, but whatever), and of course it's easy to dismiss their two LPs on SST as an excercise in pure pointlessness when the label was throwing piles of shit against the wall, I bear them no grudge for their efforts. They released two full-lengthers on the label before switching to their hometown imprint, Twin/Tone, in 1990 for one more exercise in recorded nothingness and disappeared thereafter. For someone somewhere I'm sure they're a musical big deal, and I do not mean to shit on your parade. I think they had one or two bright, shining moments, and the rest of their oeuvre belongs in the bargain bin, where it likely resides today. Still, those few shining moments were pretty damn great. For the record, I bought my beat-up cut-out copy of this LP about two decades ago; the version I heard and played in my younger days was my brother's which he received in a 3PBS radio competition in early 1999, in which he won an "SST prize pack' containing RWR, SWA's Winter LP and something else I forget. Score!

Let's quickly ponder LA's X, not the Australian one, who have pondered here before. They are or at least were an obvious entry point for many into the world of west coast punk back in the day, although for many I can only assume they were considered too much of a musical half-measure to be that inspiring, or maybe it was their descent into fairly mundane college-rock which has spoilt their musical legacy for many. They're not a band who ever got my blood running in a major way, although I always liked their interviews and live footage from the original Decline... film, and always had a soft spot for the John Doe/Exene musical partnership and their various musical endeavours (their roots band, The Knitters, who also featured Blasters folks, put out a great album in '85; and let's not forget John Doe's guest appearance on Tom Troccoli's sole LP on SST - I know you've been trying, but I thought I'd remind you). So, it comes to be that now, in my mid 40s, I have been greatly enjoying their first two LPs a whole lot. I bought 'em both about 20 years back for about a ha'penny a piece, and it's not like I've never not enjoyed them, but lately their rotation has been 'heavy', as opposed to an annual pity-spin. Although X were first-gen LA punker, they never really had the wild musical bent nor nihilism of many of their pears, whether they be other first-gen punkers (Weirdos/Screamers/Germs) or suburban HC slammers (Black Flag/Adolescents/Circle Jerks/Fear), but that doesn't mean their more polished and mature 'rock' sound is something to dismiss. It does, after all, 'rock'. For my money, their second effort, 1981's Wild Gift, is a better musical proposition than the debut, 1980's Los Angeles. Both were produced by Ray Manzarek (a man who staked his claim in life as 'an ex-member of The Doors'), though from all reports, Ray was a genuine fan of this crazy new music scene and wanted to do it justice in the studio. I think he succeeded moreso with his second effort. Song-wise, both LPs are stylistically similar - a Ramones-damaged mid-tempo punk rock approach with Billy Zoom's rockabilly inflections scattered throughout - but that claustrophobic, tight-assed sound Manzarek got on the debut is unleashed on Wild Gift, and it sounds like it's got some air to breathe. It sounds like a real punk rock recording, whereas the debut sounds like someone sucked the rock out of it. Got me? Good. Both albums have their fair share of boss cuts familiar to all and sundry, but Wild Gift has 'We're Desperate', 'I'm Coming Over' and 'In This House That I Call Home', and you need all of the above. I'd rate both as quite mandatory, should you be attempting to get your head around US punk rock of the past 40 years. The critics loved 'em, of coirse, but don't hate 'em because of it.

And onto something completely different. I've been heavily absorbing the, err, heavy sounds of Wales' BUDGIE the past 12 months. So much so, I have actually splurged on physical copies (their essential albums from the 1970s have been granted rather swish vinyl reissues) to show my fandom, or something or other. I was made aware of their catalogue at two previous places of work, one in the latter half of the '90s, and one this century. In both workplaces I was situated within spitting distance of a vocal fan, and I came to appreciate the crunching, boogified nature of their power-trio ways. For the record, Budgie's first four albums from 1971 - '75, at the very least, I would rate as essential stabs of pre-punk hard rock a smidgen under the A-level sludge of Black Sabbath: that's Budgie, Squawk, Never Turn Your Back On A Friend and In For The Kill. Yes, there's a picture of a fucking budgie on every single album cover, with said picture often used as a pun in connection with the album title. Why the name Budgie? No idea, though I'm sure there's a ripper of a story behind it. Led by bassist/voclaist, Burke Shelley (and guitarist Tony Bourge was there for their best years, too), and formed in 1967, the obvious comparisons for their sonics would be Black Sabbath, Led Zep and Rush, although one should probably clarify a few things: Budgie never contained the monumental bong-rattling heaviness of 'Sabbath, the musical eclecticsm of Zep nor the technical wizardry/tedium or Rush. They occupied their own space somewhere between all three, and a nice space it be. In the realms of pre-Ramonic hard rock - that certain brand of guitar-heavy boogified no-brains-necessary realm of guitar/bass/drums aktion where frankly rather unattractive men in horrible clothes made beautiful noise - I would give them a ticket to sainthood. Like many of their hard-rock brethren, things started going pear-shaped by the time punk hit. It's not that punk wiped the floor with them and the old guard just shut up shop: much of the old guard, or at least those who made great music between the years 1970 - 1975, were simply running on empty by 1976. Inspiration only lasts so long. For many of the first-wave punkers, they were lucky to make it past 1979 without humiliating themselves in the process, so let's not say I'm being unkind here. Hard to pick a fave between the four because they're all good and all follow a similar path: cowbell, rifferama both slow and fast, an occasional acoiustic track and Shelley's squeezed-testicles vocals telling a story of a devil woman or thereabouts. Great song titles, too: any band who can sing a song entitled 'Hot As A Docker's Armpit' deserves your undying love. Many bands you know and love, and some you probably don't, have a great fondness for Budgie, which, by the natural laws of physics, means you should give them a listen.


Pig State Recon said...

Those early X albums just get better and better with time. I'm constantly giving them a spin only to hear the playing and songwriting in new ways, which is something I can't say about everything from that period. The band was a such an unusual mix of musical personalities - from strong, trained players like DJ to the almost naive/outsider presence of Exene. Together they become something more than the sum of their parts, more than what I'd normally tag as punk. I reckon the quality remained strong through the 4th LP, after which they just seemed to give up, songwriting-wise. Then Billy left, and while I dig Tony Gilkyson as musician I agree with Christgau: most of the time his playing was just too Nashville-classy for this lot. Although the "Unclogged" live recording with Tony G continues the fascinating Knitters-like reworking of the original songs.

BUDGIE are as solid as they come. But you know I've never, ever listened to RUN WESTY RUN! I can't be the only one.

D. said...

Well, strangely enough I've never ever listened to (an album by) Run Westy Run too. I did buy Buffalo Tom when it came out. Ah. The second generation college rock on SST (besides scattered albums by various solo artists) is about the least interesting aspect of the label. Twist of fate: RWR were a rare example of a band on SST that I actually saw live while they were part of SST. They opened for Grant Hart on tour in 1990/91.

Looking back, Budgie were pretty cool. Almost impeckable throughout the 1970s.

No words of praise here for Buffalo (AUS). Great band!