May the gods eternally bless Rhino Records for so many reasons, but one of that label’s greatest contributions to weird society was the Golden Throats series of compilation albums. It endeavored—and largely succeeded—at bringing wide attention to one of my favorite vinyl collectibles sub-obsessions: celebrities not known for singing who nonetheless and against all reason recorded albums on which they sang, often very, very poorly. Adding to the kitsch appeal of the phenomenon, these albums were usually lounge or easy listening, and were often recorded in total earnest.
Notably, key Star Trek cast members William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were disproportionally represented on those Rhino comps, appearing on all fourinstallmentsin theseries, and scoring four tracks between them on the first one alone. Shatner’s stilted cover songs have become legendary on the basis of just one completely bonkers album, 1968’s The Transformed Man which manages to be a major head-trip both intentionally AND accidentally. Nimoy released about a half-dozen musical albums, a couple of which are Trek themed affairs on which he sometimes sings in-character as Spock, which have moments that approach the outsidery awesomeness of the Shatner LP. The rest are straightforward folk-pop albums, which are unironically not half bad at all.
Sadly, DeForest Kelley never made a musical LP, so it’s impossible to collect a complete discography of Trek’s archetypal Freudian trio. HOWEVER, there was more music to be found on the bridge: the recordings of Nichelle “Lt. Uhura” Nichols were totally neglected by Rhino when they assembled the Golden Throats comps (probably because she was actually really good). Between 1967 and 1991, she released three full lengths (sort of), two 7” singles, and an EP. Before she blazed a massively important trail for non-servile representation of African-American women on broadcast TV, Nichols sang with both Duke Ellington’s and Lionel Hampton’s bands, and she debuted as a solo recording artist with 1967’s Down to Earth. The title was an obvious nod to her stellar day job, and fittingly, the music was anything but cosmic. It’s a lightly jazzy lounge pop album, typical of its time, and loaded with standards and showtunes.
Strawberry Switchblade was Jill Bryson and Rose McDowall—two girls from the opposite ends of the city of Glasgow.
Jill was at art school with ambitions to be a painter. She loved music and dreamt of maybe one day being a singer in a band.
Rose was from the deprived working class side of the city where violence was endemic. Her father had once been hit in the head with an axe in a case of mistaken identity. Rose felt different and wanted to do something more creative than just tick a box of the choices of life offered.
She therefore started her first band with her boyfriend after seeing the Ramones in concert. Her attitude was if they can do, so can we. She took up the drums and the pair formed The Poems.
After punk, it seemed every teenager in Glasgow was in a band. In 1977 there was Johnny and the Self Abusers, who became better known as Simple Minds; Edwyn Collins formed a band called Nu-Sonics that evolved into Orange Juice; Paul Haig and Malcolm Ross were in TV ART which became Josef K; and so on so on and so forth….
Come the 1980s, the next generation of post punk, new wave, new pop artists were coming through: Roddy Frame and Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Bobby Bluebell and The Bluebells. It was in this milieu that Jill and Rose formed Strawberry Switchblade in 1981.
Rose and Jill in all their finery.
Jill quickly learned how to play the guitar and started writing songs. Rose had the voice and moved from drummer to singer. Together their voices created beautiful uplifting pop harmonies. Over a short period of time, they wrote songs, appeared on John Peel and Kid Jensen radio shows, which was quickly followed by a management offer from Bill Drummond (later of the KLF), who also offered the girls an indie record deal. They move to London and released their first single “Trees and Flowers” in 1983. This led to their signing with a major label—Warner Brothers.
Theirs was the kind of whirlwind career that only happens in books or in movies or on TV. Dressed like they had woken up in a haberdashery for dolls, Jill and Rose’s beribboned polka dot chic was soon everywhere.
A second single “Since Yesterday” came out in late 1984 which propelled the girls to even greater success.
“Since Yesterday” hit number five in the charts and the Strawberry Switchblade were suddenly on every TV chat and music show. The song’s upbeat sound belied the serious intent of the subject matter—which according to Rose is about nuclear war.
Strawberry Switchblade became a sensation in Japan—their look, their sound made hundreds of thousands of Japanese weak at the knees. Sell out concerts, traveling in limousines, mobbed by fans wherever they went—it should have been the start of an even great career—but things were falling apart.
Jill suffered from agoraphobia which stymied much of the pleasure she could have from the band’s success—it was also something that had inspired the song “Trees and Flowers.” There were also problems between Rose and Jill that led to a “cold war” between the two. They worked together professionally but in private had little in common. It was business, but it was no longer a fun business.
“Girls with guitars? That won’t work,” quipped John Lennon as he watched four girls take the stage of the Cavern Club, Liverpool in 1963. The band was The Liverbirds and Lennon’s attitude was the kind of dumb prejudice these four faced every time they picked up their guitars and blasted an audience with their hard rockin’ R’n'B.
The Liverbirds were formed in Liverpool 1963. The original line-up was Valerie Gell (guitar), Mary McGlory (bass), Sylvia Saunders (drums), together with Mary’s sister, Sheila McGlory (guitar) and Irene Green (vocals). The band’s name was lifted from the liver bird—the mythical bird (most probably a cormorant) that symbolises the city of Liverpool and they were all girls (“birds” in the youthful parlance of the time). The group practiced every day until they were better than most of the local boy bands who were merely copycatting local heroes The Beatles.
The Liverbirds were apparently so good (if a bit rough around the edges) they were snapped up to tour with The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Rockin’ Berries. However, it was soon apparent that the girls—unlike the boys—were were being cheated out of a big part of their fees by booking agents—a crushing disappointment that led to the loss of their lead singer and guitarist to other bands.
It was beginning to look as if Lennon was right, but the girls refused to give up and continued touring with The Kinks. Unlike their northern counterparts, London’s all male bands The Kinks and The Stones were supportive of The Liverbirds—as Mary McGlory recalled in a letter to the Liverpool Beat in 2014:
The Kinks took us down to London to meet their manager, even booked us into a hotel, and told us to come to the studio tomorrow and bring our guitars with us (maybe there might be time to play a song for their manager). When we arrived there, the roadie came in and told The Kinks that their guitars had been stolen out of the van – so this was how The Kinks played our guitars on their hit recording of “You really got me“.
Absolute nonsense- they were a cool band but this DID not happen.
On YRGM I use my Harmony meteor thru the elpico green amp and ray used his tele and pete used his blue fender bass…what a load of bollocks.
However, The Kinks did help save The Liverbirds from splitting-up by suggesting they bring Pamela Birch in as vocalist. Birch was a big blonde bee-hived singer/guitarist. She had a deep bluesy voice which harmonized beautifully with Valeri Gell’s vocals. Birch was a perfect fit for the band.
They were a hit at the Cavern Club. They were a hit across the country. They were a hit on tour. But the band hailed as the all-girl Beatles at the height of Beatlemania couldn’t even get a record deal in England. However, things soon started to shift.
First Kinks’ manager Larry Page and then Beatles manager Brian Epstein wanted to sign The Liverbirds. But the girls were off to Hamburg to play the Star Club. The band was an instant hit in Germany as Mary McGlory recalls:
We arrived in Hamburg on the 28th May, 1964 and played the same night. The crowd was great and loved us right away. The Star-Club owner Manfred Weissleder became our one and only MANAGER.
A few days later he sent us to Berlin to play at a big concert with Chuck Berry, shortly before we went on stage we were told that it was forbidden to play any Chuck Berry songs. Well that was impossible for us, so when Val went to the mike and announced “Roll over Beethoven”, Berry’s manager ran on stage and tried to stop us playing, Val pushed him away and told him to “F. Off”.(She had probably had a shandy). Back in Hamburg, Manfred called us to his office, we thought he was going to tell us off, but no such thing, Chuck Berry’s manager wanted to take us to America. Manfred said he would leave the decision up to us, but then he added – he will probably take you to Las Vegas, and there you will have to play topless! Well of course that was his way of putting us off. After all, the club was still crowded every night.
The band had hits with the songs “Peanut Butter,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” “Loop-de-Loop,” and “Diddley Daddy.” Although in performance they played the very same Willie Dixon and Chuck Berry covers favored by the Stones and other boys, Birch also started writing original numbers, producing such favorites as “Why Do You Hang Around Me?” and “It’s Got To be You.” Though pioneering and incredibly popular, the girls (now in their late teens-early twenties) still faced the everyday sexism from record industry supremos who thought young girls should be on the scene, but not heard. Not unless they were in the audience screaming. These men wanted girls who dressed to please—not girls who played instruments better than the boys. Girls with guitars? That won’t work. Except for that, of course, it did. Splendidly!
In 1968, on the cusp of a Japanese tour the band split:
Until 1967, we played nearly all over Europe, recorded two albums and four singles for the Star-Club label and appeared on many television shows. Our drummer Sylvia married her boyfriend John Wiggins from The Bobby Patrick Big Six and left the band. Shortly after Val married her German boyfriend Stephan, who had a car accident on his way to visit her and was since paralyzed. So when we got an offer from Yamaha to do a tour of Japan at the beginning of 1968, Pam and I had to find two German girls to replace them. Japan was great, and the Japanese people really liked us, but Pam and I did not enjoy it anymore, we missed the other two, the fun had gone out of it. We thought this is the right time to finish, even though we were still only 22 and 23.
Today McGlory, Gell and Saunders continue with their post-Liverbirds lives. Sadly, Pamela Birch died in 2009. However, this all-girl guitar band should be given credit for pioneering rock and roll, R ‘n’ B and being right up there for a time with The Beatles, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones.
Legendary studio musician Carol Kaye is one of America’s most prolific bass guitarists, playing on an estimated 10,000 recordings in her 50+ year career. She was a member of “The Wrecking Crew,” a group of studio musicians who played on a significant number of hit records from LA in the 1960s. “The Wrecking Crew” were Phil Spector’s house band, sometimes credited as the “Phil Spector Wall of Sound Orchestra.”
In the clip below from the hip-hop documentary, Sample This, Carol Kaye gives KISS’ Gene Simmons an impromptu lesson on the bass. Simmons has played professionally for nearly 50 years himself, and is arguably no slouch, but there’s a bit of snarky satisfaction in watching him struggle with the groove Kaye lays down so easily. If it weren’t for the fact that Simmons has cemented a life-long reputation as an egocentric, misogynistic, asshole, it wouldn’t be quite as funny. But he has, and it is.
“You gotta do it with the beat, Gene.”
After the jump, watch Carol Kaye take Gene Simmons to bass school…
“Why can’t we have a baby?”
“Uh, DUH, because I like abortions.”
“But can’t we let one go to full term?”
“Oh gross. Look. You know the rules. Only live things go in my pussy…”
“Yes, and only dead things come out, yes I remember.”
I was just having a conversation with my editor and comrade here at Dangerous Minds, Richard Metzger, and we were discussing classic overdubbed comedy videos, such as the ones we recently featured in this post about The Rusty James Show.
I was surprised to find he was unfamiliar with the Internet classic, Jiz. Later, in talking to others, I found that I actually had a great number of friends that had never been turned onto the work of Sienna D’Enema and his reworkings of the classic Jem and the Holograms cartoons. This is certainly a tragedy that must be rectified.
A truly, truly, truly outrageous tragedy…
Most of the Jiz cartoon parodies are about six years old now, but the humor is timeless if you enjoy very politically-incorrect toilet humor about drag queens who love drugs, abortions, the word “motherfucking,” gangbangs, shitty panties, and lipstick lesbians.
After the jump, some classic transgressive get-real-high-and-overdub-shit video art…
Vampira’s highly successful show was cancelled after only a year in 1955 when she refused to sell the rights to the character to ABC. The popularity of the Vampira character spawned imitators all over the country. It seems that at some point every major television market has had at least one ghoulish horror host or hostess. One of these was Portland, Oregon’s Tarantula Ghoul—known as “Taranch” to her fans.
From the March 29, 1958 issue of TV Guide.
Tarantula Ghoul was a vampy “monster of ceremonies” for KPTV’s House of Horror from 1957 to 1959. Played by Suzanne Waldron, the Vampira-like character bears a striking resemblance to Wynona Ryder’s Lydia Deetz character from Beetlejuice.
House of Horror followed the standard format of showing z-grade movies with comedy bumpers. The cast members included Milton, a grave-robber-turned-gardener, Baby the boa constrictor, and Sir Galahad the tarantula. Sadly, all episodes of House of Horror seem to be lost to the sands of time. No footage exists of the show or of Waldron in character. According to Patrick McGreery, general manager of Fox KPTV and KPDX, “The archives are gone. Nobody did a good enough job saving the clips.”
TV Radio Mirror - July 1958
The show was cancelled in 1959 when Waldron became pregnant out of wedlock. This was unfortunately very frowned upon at the time, and Portland lost a classic campy horror hostess as a result.
A few weeks ago Cherry Bombed, one of my co-conspirators here at Dangerous Minds, was working on a post about vintage Swedish rock and roll trading cards and contacted me to ask if I knew who “Bobby McGee” was. As well-versed in glitter and glam as I like to consider myself, I was at a loss. The Swedish trading card of the chick in lame′ spandex and leopard-print stand-up collar on the back of a chopper was an intriguing mystery.
It wasn’t an easy bit of searching to reveal the identity of this early ‘70s mystery artist either—as searching for any musically-related “Bobby McGee” (or more properly, as I’d learn, “Bobbie McGee”), was bound to return thousands of Janis Joplin and Kris Kristofferson entries.
Eventually “Bobbie McGee” revealed herself as Lady Teresa Anna Von Arletowicz, who was also dubbed by the music press of the day as “Gladys Glitter” for her musical and sartorial similarities to Gary Glitter.
Click on image for larger, readable version.
Arletowicz was born in London, but lived in South Africa for a time where her recording career seems to have begun with the release of the 1972 pop single “Zanzibar.”
Her 1973 UK glam rock single, “Rock and Roll People,” brought her some degree of cult status which resulted in a few TV appearances, music press articles, and at least one vintage Swedish rock and roll trading card—but not much else. It seems that the UK music industry was only interested in elevating one glam rock queen to superstar status and it wasn’t in the cards for Gladys Glitter—Suzi Quatro was to be the anointed one. A shame, in fact, because you can’t really have enough ‘70s badass rocker chicks. Bobbie McGee released four more singles that went nowhere before completely disappearing from music history’s radar.
Still, thank glob for unearthed Swedish trading cards to set us on journeys of pop-archaeology and YouTube for preserving what has become my favorite song of the moment. It may also be yours too—if you don’t think too hard about it. There’s some big dumb hooks in there.
Here’s to you Gladys Glitter, wherever you are.
Listen to the almost-coulda-been-a-hit “Rock and Roll People”:
Though it only existed for five years, from 1978 to 1983, NYC’s Mudd Club served as one of New York—and American—underground culture’s most crucial incubators. Talking Heads and Blondie were fixtures there, and artists that emerged from the scene it galvanized included Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Madonna, the B-52s, Kathy Acker… you get the point. It was the gnarly, buoyantly creative flip-side of Studio 54’s disco-glamour coin, a lightning-in-a-bottle moment that can’t be recreated.
This week, Mudd Club co-founder Steve Mass has contrived a Mudd Club rummage sale to benefit the Bowery Mission, a long surviving homeless shelter/food kitchen that remains in NYC’s onetime Skid Row, now, like basically all of Lower Manhattan, a playground for the privileged. The event will be held on Thursday, November 19th, 2015 at Django at the Roxy Hotel. Admission ain’t cheap. It’s $200 a head to get in, but again, the money goes to a homeless mission. What that gets you is a chance to buy a Vivienne Westwood dress donated by Debbie Harry, an original painting donated by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, and other items donated by Sting, Maripol, Patti Smith, and other members of the Downtown demimonde.
Mass assures us that, rather than being a Sotheby’s-style auction, the rummage sale will be “like we had it in the old days,” with $50 dollar trinkets casually laid out next to more expensive items. “If Marc Jacobs donates a dress from that period and it’s $4,000 or $5,000, it might be next to a pair of shoes of someone who lost them in the Mudd Club in 1980.”
That pastiche, Mass said, was true to the club’s sensibility. “We were merging all these disciplines, which hadn’t been done before in a club,” said Mass, citing the presence of filmmakers like Kathryn Bigelow, writers like Candace Bushnell and Jay McInerney, photographers like Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin (both of whom are hosts), and fashion designers like Anna Sui (another host) and Marc Jacobs, both of whom had early shows there.
The event will be open-bar, and will feature performances by the B-52s Kate Pierson and the Patti Smith Group’s Lenny Kaye, plus DJs and more to be announced.
Here’s some BADASS footage of the Cramps at the Mudd Club in 1981, from the contemporary NYC access cable program “Paul Tschinkel’s Inner-Tube.”
Jen Ray’s paintings of “sparring Amazonian women who inhabit decaying, semi-surrealist and strangely beautiful wastelands” evoke the late ‘70s avant-post-psychedelic science fiction worlds one would associate with Heavy Metal (the magazine, not the music), but with a decidedly feminist bent—both in subject matter, and, some might argue, in form as well. Angry, jagged, “masculine” lines are filled in with soft, “feminine” washes of color—that is if colors and lines can even be described as “masculine” or “feminine” in the 21st century.
Untitled. 2007. (Detail)—Click on image for larger version.
Ray seems to delight in playing with gender stereotypes, and it’s all the more obvious in the exceptional performance pieces she constructs to augment her magnificent large-scale works of fine art.
North Carolina born, Ray was based out of Berlin for nearly a decade before recently returning to her home state. Her exhibitions of painting and performance have been presented in Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf, Wolfsburg, Paris, Copenhagen, Mexico City, Amersfoort (Netherlands), and most recently, at New York’s Albertz Benda gallery.
Ray’s newest exhibition, Deep Cuts, runs at Albertz Benda until November 7th. The presentation which accompanied the opening, directed by Ray, featured a performance by Honeychild Coleman and Amor Schumacher along with a chorus of women backing up détourned renditions of Public Enemy’s “Countdown to Armageddon” and The Guess Who’s “American Woman.”
In a world where the mere mention of the phrase “performance art” sends eyes rolling with assumptions of self-indulgent, pretentious, mess-making (and add the word “feminist” to that phrase and you’ll likely lose even more dudebro interest) it’s remarkable how entertaining, as well as conceptual and thought-provoking, Jen Ray’s productions are. It’s very nearly as populist as it is powerful in its approach.
Give it a couple of minutes to ramp up and stick with it till the end… this is killer:
The first of Jen Ray’s performance works that I viewed (and still my favorite) was Hits which takes Black Flag’s tongue-in-cheek 1987 macho party-anthem “Annihilate This Week” and turns it on its ass. My remark upon first viewing this piece was “this is more interesting than any (punk band’s) show I’ve been to in the past five years.” The sterile atmosphere of the gallery space and its attendees being invaded by singer “Mad Kate” out-Rollins-ing Rollins somehow makes the proceedings even more “punk.”
One of the sad things about discovering new music in the post-Internet age is that, even with trusted recommendations, we often tend to give a new artist ten to twenty seconds to “click” with us before moving along to the next bit of input stimulus. One of the few drawbacks of having instantaneous access to nearly every song on the planet is that we tend to spend relatively less time warming up to the complex or unfamiliar than generations who grew up with an income that may have allowed for one or two new album purchases per week (supplemented with mixtapes made by friends and lovers). Access to less musical input dictated that more time would be spent absorbing a work and giving it multiple plays to sink in, even if it didn’t connect at first.
When Rat Rios’ cover of Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face” rolled across my desktop last week, I might not have even given it a play at all. It was just one bit in a constant stream of mostly useless information I’m subjected to on a daily basis. It did, however, come to me from someone with a trusted opinion, and Billy Idol is a guilty pleasure—so, click I did. THANKFULLY.
Perhaps it was the familiarity of the song itself (though Rat Rios’ cover sounds very little like the Billy Idol original). More likely, it was the production and singing style which immediately brought to mind Julee Cruise’s work with David Lynch. Yeah, it was probably that. Anyway, something about this hooked me well past the ten-to-twenty-second window I tend to give an incoming soundfile. I instantly fell in love and have played this song dozens of times in the past week.
I was surprised to find that the track hasn’t racked up many views (355 as of this writing) and Rat Rios’ Facebook page has less than a thousand fans (as of this writing). I’m hoping Dangerous Minds’ readership will love this as much as I do and explore the work of Samantha “Rat” Rios.
Rat Rios live. Via Facebook.
In a recent interview Rios cites David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti (longtime composer of David Lynch scores) as major influences. It’s fairly obvious when you hear this cut.
It’s rare that I think a remake or cover surpasses a well-loved original, but I’ve got to hand it to Rat Rios. This bedroom dream-pop version of “Eyes Without a Face” surpasses the Billy Idol original in every way.
I recommend committing it to mixtape for your next make-out session.