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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

And then it was the 80's

Chrissie Hynde arriving at the Pretenders in-store at Tower Records on the Sunset Strip, April 1980.

It was the Pretenders first tour of the USA. They had some excellent singles out in the UK - produced by Nick Lowe! They covered what at the time was one of my favorite Kinks songs, "Stop Your Sobbing." It appealed to me because I loved the idea of a woman singing it...singing those lyrics, telling a guy to stop his sobbing. Yeah. Which is pretty much the same reason why I never did join the anti-Linda Ronstadt bandwagon even though I was a punk and she was an old-school-LA chanteuse with her Eagles connection, her pop-star fame and her California Governor boyfriend... because she covered Warren Zevon songs and she routinely turned the boy-girl narrative songs inside out by never changing the gender. Like when she covered Elvis Costello's "Allison."

Punk's breakthrough in the 70s, through the media and the sheer tenacity of the bands, artists and fans to plant flags and stake a claim on a slice of pop culture pie by opening up their own clubs, record labels, stores and publications, certainly helped the mainstream swallow it to a certain degree. Major record labels tended to sign bands that were riding this new wave (hmm, akin to the "nouvelle vague" movement in French cinema in the 50s perhaps? Not really...I always balked at the naming convention.).... ANYWAY, this is where I think "new wave" and "80s" music formulates itself.

Purveyors of pop music smartly incorporated the energy, urgency and drive of punk rock and in many instances, really did put a refreshing stamp on palatable radio-friendly pop music. And besides, some of my favorite punk bands did draw from the pop lexicon - like The Jam, The Nerves, The Go-Go's
Paul Weller
Belinda, Pleasant and Wyline

and in grand fashion, The Ramones who went so far as to make records with pop music geniuses like producers Phil Spector and Ed Stasium.
Joey Ramone

No suprise then, that the Go-Go's would get a major label deal and have big radio hits! Please don't forget they were a punk band. Belinda Carlisle has a strong punk pedigree, having been the very first drummer of the Germs, after all, as "Dottie Danger." Go-Go Charlotte Caffey was an essential punk rock guitarist and songwriter when we met. She was still in the Eyes, and we met right up front and center at the lip of the stage at the Whisky A Go Go when the Ramones played. Because of that, I always associate Charlotte with the Ramones, although she was a constant fixture during the Dickies rise to local fame through their constant gigging. She and Leonard Graves Phillips were an item...

So here stands Chrissie Hynde with one foot in punk rock and the other in mainstream pop. How did she do it? Why was she able to stand on both sides of the line and be accepted by both sides? Well, that first Pretenders record was solid, each track a killer. There have been so very few auspicious debut records, and hers is always among them, regardless who is making the list.

Chrissie Hynde was a journalist before becoming a recording artist. She reviewed records for one of the UK music weeklies and she was brutal and brutally honest in her reviews. The stakes were pretty high when it came time for her to be on the other side of the coin - although I don't think that the scrutiny is what motivated her. I think she had then and still has now a great musical sensibility. After all, she's from Ohio, a place that spawned such musical creativity as a reaction to the boredom, the economic depression and the tension that was all around. In the interview she gave to VH1 when I was working on the mini-series, "VH1 Presents the 70s" (NOT to be confused with the "Remember The.." series about decades past that is on that channel now. A VERY different animal), Chrissie talked about being at Kent State when the National Guard shot those four innocent students down in cold blood.

So...that child of the 60s and 70s becomes a viable public voice in the 80s.

I remember that the Pretenders announced a tour in the USA, and in Los Angeles, they were scheduled to play the small Palomino club in North Hollywood, CA. It holds maybe 300 people, if you count the patio area outside where you can't see the musicians on stage. But that show sold out in about a minute and another show was added at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for the next day. The Civic holds about 3,000, and it too sold out. That should tell you something about how quickly people caught on to the Pretenders.

In London, Chrissie was part of a group of people who all did amazing work, and most of whom went on to create lasting works of music and written word, including Vivien Goldman, various members of the Clash, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello and that whole contingent of smart writers for the Melody Maker, Sounds and NME weekly papers. Of course, she met, romanced and had a child with Ray Davies, and later married Jim Kerr of Simple Minds.
Sure, it sounds soap operatic to you, but all these people were peers who hung out at the same places and lived in the same neighborhoods.

The 80s did signal an end to me of the kind of music that really changed things. Of course, that's not to discount music that was created in the 80s, for I certainly did love a lot of bands and records.

But let's look at what happened when the 70s became the 80s:

John Lennon is assassinated on December 8 by a man posing as a fan. On the same day, LA punk pioneer, Darby Crash takes an intentional overdose of heroin, dying at the same time as the man who was more popular than Jesus.

Darby Crash 1977

Having left Generation X, Billy Idol becomes a superstar.

Billy Idol in Hollywood

MTV launches in 1981, helping people like Billy Idol boost their stardom, but also giving rise to the "style over substance" complaint... and for me it was all over... except that I did go work for the MTV Networks in the VH1, following in the footsteps of other indie and punk type people who held that job before me, namely filmmaker Mark Pellington, and Target Video principal, Jackie Sharp.

Now, look into Target Video if you please. It was the nexxus of everything punk in San Francisco, and its life story is as interesting as anything you will ever hear. But its not my story to tell. You can buy their products, however....Screamers, Cramps, X and Devo live performances that happened at Target or were shot by Target. Its really the best stuff you'll ever see.


tete said...

i think it is very kool how u see things and take photos about them. i love music and the people in it, i like the scandles too. i htink i would enjoy doing what u have done!

Lance said...

Very cool comments about Linda Ronstadt! She happily resides in my CD changer along with the Ramones, B-52's and the Go-Go's!