Tuesday, April 04, 2017

RECORD OF THE DAY: THE DEAD BOYS - NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD BOYS




When I was 15, and in the thick of my US hardcore obsessions, I was also, perhaps strangely (or perhaps not), really obsessed with this album. I mean, I loved it inside and out for a year or so. And I still love it now, but back then it was a record I would study nightly: the photos, liner notes, every riff, every obnoxious word out of Stiv Bators' mouth. Something about the Dead Boys, and particularly this record (as well as this reformation 12" from 1987, which I still rate equally as highly) made a big impact, because despite the puritan baldie aesthetics of much of the early hardcore bands, I'd never lost my love of good - nay, great - '77-style PUNK. And that's what the Dead Boys were.

You could even be unkind and deride them as somewhat bandwagon jumpers. I mean, Stiv was born in 1949, did the bars of Cleveland with Frankenstein for a number of years (belting out a pretty mean glam-damaged punkish hard rock, BTW) and didn't even cut his hair short with the Dead Boys until the band relocated to NYC and Mr. Rotten and crew had made their cultural dent circa late '76 or so. Which is perhaps why many critics thought their young, loud and snotty schtick (they really weren't the former) was a bit of a con, but then again, the critics had absolutely no idea what to make of punk rock, good or bad, at the time, so that's hardly a gauge anyone should measure a band by. So please don't.

The fact is, the band known as the Dead Boys were one of the best American punk rock bands of the original wave - east or west coast - and they made two studio albums you could stake your life on. Yes, even the second one, We Have Come For Your Children, which I wrote about here a number of years back and is, despite the neutered production c/o Mountain-man Felix Pappalardi, an album with, at least in my opinion, better songs than the lauded debut - that's Young, Loud and Snotty, if I need mention it. But for me, this is the album which beats them both. Originally released on the Bomp label in 1981, at which time Stiv was trying to make his name as a kind of power-pop dude (unsuccessfully, though those recordings are good fun), it was recorded live at CBGBs in 1979 with apparently Stiv's vocals re-recorded later on due to the fact that he missed the mic most of the night. It features the best versions of the best tracks from both of their studio albums, which basically means it's like a perfectly executed Best Of set with the band - Cheetah Chrome, Jeff Magnum, Johnny Blitz and Jimmy Zero - playing with a real energy and urgency which was never really caught in the studio, but it also shows their real songcraft as a group: Stoogoid punk, power-pop, proto-punk balladry mesh together and demonstrate their power as a rock and roll group without just sneers and poses.

The band was destined for total failure. There were the combustible personalities to consider, but also the fact that the US of A - the America which makes up all the cities between NYC and LA - were not in the mood for the bad news known as punk rock (as John Lydon noted in an unusually perceptive and conciliatory tone several years ago, they'd just been through the Vietnam War and Watergate: they were beaten down and wanted something nice for a change), and the Dead Boys were about as tabloid PUNK ROCK as it got. But they made amazing records, too. This is their best.

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