In the furor surrounding recently released new wave and punk rock recordings, one such album seems to have been overlooked.
It is surprising, because many publications and radio stations are digging for material that others don't have, and this one is widely available. Two of the artists on the album — Wreckless Eric and Larry Wallis — have not released other American recordings, and have received exceedingly little airplay and press. They would seem prime for a scoop.
It is all the more surprising because the three other British new wavers on the collection, Stiffs Live, have received inordinate amounts of publicity in the last month: Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Ian Dury.
All three played numerous gigs during the "new wave week," May 1-8, at the Capitol in Passaic, the Palladium and the Bottom Line in New York. And all three had their solo albums, as well as their concert performances, roundly attended and applauded.
Yet little has been heard from or about Stiffs Live.
It is a sampler's album, each of the participants having two or less songs, recorded in October 1977 on the Stiff tour of England.
Nick Lowe leads off the festivities, following the announcer's introduction: "Are you ready for some Stiff music?" (The record company's name lends itself to much word-play. The inner label even reads "the world's most flexible record label.")
Lowe, the stalwart songwriter/singer/musician/producer basically a great popmeister — appears here with Dave Edmunds on guitar in a group called Last Chicken In The Shop. During his recent tour, however, Lowe and Edmunds were known as Rockpile. Under any name, the music is great.
"I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock And Roll)" and "Let's Eat," missing from Lowe's Columbia release Pure Pop For Now People, are included in this collection.
Both songs are straight-out, old-fashioned rock 'n' roll, which Lowe can play all day and night without becoming boring. "Let's Eat," especially, sounds like two or more hits from the '50s and '60s, but I just can't put my finger on which ones they are. That happens frequently when listening to Lowe.
Elvis Costello offers "Miracle Man" — which is on his My Aim Is True album — and a previously unreleased version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself."
The former is performed quite differently live. Deliberate, almost packaged, with a muddy bass but a sharp lead guitar on My Aim Is True, the song is faster, but more defined, with a quieter, but clearer, bass and a "99 Teardrops"-like organ on Stiffs Live.
The Bacharach/David ballad is a real heart-wrencher, and may offer some insight into what makes Elvis Costello tick — a subject which has tickled many a critic's fancy.
When Costello croons "I'm just so used to doing everything with you / planning everything for two / I just don't know what to do with myself," it is the antithesis of everything he's been singing since. Even his tone is pleading. He bemoans and laments where he usually scorns and berates.
Did he sing like this before he acquired his "image," before becoming the "sadistic underside of Woody Allen," the "angry working-class hero," as writers have labeled him?
I don't know the answers. You figure it out.
One more note: As the applause dies down following "I Just Don't Know," the first few bars of "Radio, Radio," Costello's classic, can be heard. But the rest is cut.
What a shame.
Ian Dury sings "Wake Up & Make Love To Me" in his lewd, leering, Cockney-accented voice and, unlike the crowd at the Capitol Theater, the United Kingdom fans love it. The presentation reminds me, momentarily, of Arthur Brown's Crazy World.
Dury gets the audience interested and involved to the point of coaxing him in the lyrics of "Billericay Dickie."
His sentimentality is a little less apparant here than on his album, possibly because he wants to project a tougher image on the stage. He sounds subdued, not at all exuberant.
The most immediately noticeable trait of Wreckless Eric's set is that he is accompanied by a sax. Whether the instrument is used to punch out staccato notes or to wail between the plodding verses, it is a distinguishing characteristic.
Eric looks much like Dury on the album cover picture, and he sings with a similar leering voice, but Eric's is much more nasal.
It's like he's dragging his voice through the mud, pulling it out of the sludge.
Eric, too, likes to tease the audience.
"My guitar doesn't work," he intones in his thick Cockney accent. "Plug it in," people shout. "Oh, I forgot. I've got to plug me in."
But the real treasure here is Larry Wallis, who thinks he is a "Police Car," his song.
There's a great rhythm intro, with a tight, upbeat bassline, that quickly jars one to attention. That's fine, because one should not miss any of Wallis' fine vocals. Or his lyrics:
"I'm dangerous, I prowl the streets at night / I howl when I get the scent, I turn on my flashing light / I sit in the shadow waiting for a bite / if you see a grin in your rear-view mirror, I'm a hungry black and white."