The Dictators: Go Girl Crazy! 40th Anniversary Reissue - The Dictators (Sony)
This album did not change my life. It affirmed it. When I was a pre-teen I was way into Pro Wrestling. That translated to automatic retard status among peers and adults. After all, it was fake, only an idiot would be so into it. And having Slade as my favorite band was not earning me any coolness points at school either.
And then, first darned rock mag I ever bought - either Circus or Circus Raves - there was a review by one Gordon Fletcher of this now-classic. Man, it sounded like everything I was looking for. I got the LP right away and was blown away by everything about it.
Most especially the songs of course, but also the graphics - just like my wrestling mags - and the fact that not only did they have wrestling promos on the record, they knew who Verne Gagne and Dick The Bruiser were. They really knew their stuff! Plus, like me, they were Jews from NYC.
The album is so innocent and almost sweet by any modern standards - that it caused any kind of fuss for having provocative song titles etc is laughable now. The band's resident conceptualist wrote the excellent liners for this reissue (Top Ten set a high bar with his liners on the “Every Day Is Saturday” comp) and laid it out there. “Master Race Rock” sounds controversial until you realize the master race is teenagers ("First you put your sneakers on, going outside to have some fun".) “Back To Africa” sounds iffy until you find out it’s about being in love with a black girl. He wants to "bring her to America for a life of Coke and Burgers every day," and later, "I still drink my soda but I'm getting confused, sometimes I wish I were black." Not exactly America love it or leave it.
Genius is a term I reserve for only a few. Lou Reed was a genius. Andy Shernoff, while not nearly as prolific, is one too. They get there from totally different directions while talking about some of the same things. High arts and street smarts. It goes to show that Genius and Banality are a circle like Love and Hate, not a straight line like the one that runs between My Kind Of People and Assholes.
And like any regular kid of this era should have felt, Andy writes I think Lou Reed is a creep!’’ I mean he was in his Ghoulish Insect phase - he was a creep! But still, as lyricists Andy and The Creep are my faves.
The lyrics on every song are nothing short of inspirational, not to mention hilarious, insightful, unexpected and ultimately delightful. I know delightful is not a punk rock word, but hell, I am practically my grandparents age so I am allowed to be delighted. Listening to this you want to give these guys a good pinch on the cheek. (Facial cheek, wise guy.)
But here's the thing. Ultimately I could care less about poetry unless it’s set to rock and roll music. The music - the hooks, the band dynamics, the guitar playing, the power, Andy's singing and HDM's use as a secret weapon - all that is as good as the lyrics. The settings are just perfect and that's what makes this one of the best albums ever made. It would take positive lyrics about the original Master Race to turn me off to such catchy tunes.
Even Stu Boy sounds great on this reissue. While the album does not have a Big Drum Sound, what it does have is the natural sound of a drum stick hitting a drum head. And that is a beautiful thing. As for Ross...what can you say that hasn't been said 10,000 times. The guy is one of the most amazing musicians ever in hard rock, or any other kind of music for that matter. That's right, eat your heart out Segovia, Ross is your Boss.
One of the ironies of listening to this 40th anniversary reissue now is that I am WAY older than my parents were when this first came out. I don't know if it says something good or bad about my development that this pulled me in just as much in 2015 as it did in 1975. A couple of new things jumped out at me. One is the sequencing. two of the first three songs are the only ones I've never heard live. Interesting. But having such an earnest version of “I Got You Babe” as the second song should have sent the unequivocal message that these guys were nice kids from down the block, not the thugs some in the mainstream music press tried to paint them as. (That's right I am calling you out Dave Marsh!)
Same thing with the back and forth vocals from Andy and HDM on “Teenenerate”. Call: “You can say he's no Mickey Mouse.” Response: “Gimme an hour and I'll destroy your house.” Really? That's scary?? On “Weekend”, after taking downs in class and the principal finding his stash, "in his room he'll have to stay, dreaming when he's King he'll say, Everyday Is Saturday!" OK folks THAT is songwriting. And it was teenage life in the 70's to a T.
“I Live For Cars And Girls” opened my ears to the Beach Boys who I had previously hated as a lad. "Cars, Girls, Surfing, Beer, nothing else matters here." Frankly, at the time I was only into one of the four, but I knew a good song when I heard one and the fact that these New Yorkers had surely never lived it made it that much more cool. I guess they could have gone surfing in the Far Rockaways, but I am betting that never happened. Like wrestling, it doesn't have to be real to be great.
The bonus tracks are thrilling (and also available on a 10" record sans the actual album.) Backseat Boogie blows away the earlier demo version and the alt-takes are radically different arrangements. The vocals on “I Got You Babe” are less spot-on, but more funny than the final version. There are also two "remixes" by Andrew W.K. He made some things really loud (Ross) and added all sorts of piano and stuff. When I heard it the first time I was like "Whoooa!! Hahaha!" After a few listens it actually sounds pretty normal to me now.
The innocence didn't last long. It was still there on “Manifest Destiny”, but was gone by “Blood Brothers”. Listening to this closely, it's almost unbelievable how little experience the band had. It is fully realized in every way. No doubt having Pearlman, Krugman and Allen Glover Lanier from Team BOC helped get this from concept to fully executed masterpiece. Ultimately though, the credit goes to the boys in the band. That they started out this great goes a long way toward explaining the sheer magnificence, unbelievable fierceness and beautiful recording of the Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom album and “DFFD”.
Hey, I wonder what El and La Schenck are up to these days?