The sleeve of the Imperial Dogs’ lone single
Don’t let the unemployment office tell you rock merch is a waste of money. If I hadn’t purchased my hook of Kronos T-shirt at a Blue Öyster Cult gig, I never would have met Don Waller, the LA rock writer and singer in the Imperial Dogs. Waller, who died last November at 65, approached me on the patio of the Echoplex during a Mudhoney and White Flag show a few years ago—also the last time I spoke to the late, great Bill Bartell, a fellow BÖC fanatic—and identified himself as the author of “This Ain’t the Summer of Love.” He was a lovely guy, something to bear in mind when you get to the bottom of this post and Don is in front of a reversed swastika flag, addressing a seventies Long Beach audience as “trash” and “fucking scum.”
Fifty years after the fact, this is a song whose time has come. Has it ever felt less like the Summer of Love?
The Imperial Dogs’ 1974 version of “Summer of Love” is quite different from Blue Öyster Cult’s 1976 recording, on which Waller shares writing credits with BÖC drummer Albert Bouchard and producer Murray Krugman. According to Bouchard’s account in Blue Öyster Cult: Secrets Revealed! the reasons for BÖC’s changes to the song are not particularly heartwarming:
Basically, I gotta be honest, I really didn’t have much to do with that song. I wrote the melody. A guy named Don Waller wrote some of the lyrics. He had actually just sent the lyrics to Murray Krugman and Murray said, ‘Well, this sucks, but it’s a great idea.’ He had the first line about the garden of Eden. I don’t think he even had the part about no angels above. And Murray said this is a great idea and he came to me and said we should use this, and we should use the chord progression of this song by this Irish group that nobody had ever heard of. It was this Irish Republican Army group and they were very radical. You know, in the beginning days of punk, and it had some line like ‘You be pulling your grenade pin, I’ll be pulling mine’ and it was a real tough kind of thing. I took that and filled out the chords to make it a whole song. Murray really wrote all the lyrics, and I mean, he had a lot to do with that song. But it wasn’t his riff, and it wasn’t mine either. Legally you can take a riff from somebody as long as when it goes to the chord change, you don’t go to the same chord change.
I would like to think that, if having his song rewritten and attached to a purloined IRA riff caused Don Waller any pain, having a writing credit on the album with “Don’t Fear the Reaper” gave him some consolation in the form of royalties. Surely not as remunerative, but hopefully gratifying in other ways, was the faithful rendition of “Summer of Love” on Current 93’s Swastikas for Noddy. C93’s live record of a 1987 show also takes its name from the song.
Here are the Imperial Dogs playing “This Ain’t the Summer of Love” in Long Beach on October 30, 1974. The entire show is available on DVD.
And here’s Blue Öyster Cult playing their version of the song in Largo, Maryland on December 27, 1976.