The Runaways Perform ‘Cherry Bomb’

cherry_bomb_coverListen to this track by proto-riotgrrls The Runaways, featuring Joan Jett , Lita Ford, and Cherie Currie, all  of whom would enjoy solo careers after the band folded by the end of the 1970s.  It’s their low-charting single “Cherry Bomb”, which was not so low charting in Japan where, like fellow hard rockers Cheap Trick, they had an enormous audience.

The story of the Runaways is a curious tale, in that they started off as something of an exploited act, a gimmick, with the veneer of streetwise authenticity.  Imagine this: teenaged girls playing ballsy rock music on their own, with songs about boozing, partying, and shagging.  Who would buy that?  Manager Kim Fowley thought everyone would.   But, to make sure, he kept the band on a short leash, with the illusion of independent and streetwise women tempered by male marketing prowess behind the scenes. This model produced two studio albums, one live album, a number of singles, performances at CBGBs, and a following abroad.


The Runaways are soon to be the subject of a feature film starring actors Kirsten Stewart (as Joan Jett) and Dakota Fanning (as Cherie Currie), a typical tale of a band on the rise, with internal pressures eventually breaking it up.  The heart of the drama of course is that the band members were teenaged girls, pursuing a path that popular culture had not yet fully understood or embraced.  This is reflected perhaps in the poor sales of their records in North America, and in the fact that the influence they had can largely be understood in retrospect.

And this is the curious part of the tale.  What this band eventually helped to inspire and empower was a number of other bands that came up behind them.  These include the Bangles and the Go-Gos, and later the Donnas, L7, and Le Tigre among many others, who wrote their own material and played their own instruments, but otherwise did so without a male puppeteer pulling all the strings. Yet, the Runaways themselves would not see the fruits of this until Joan Jett had formed the Blackhearts, scoring an enormous 1982 hit in “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, when Lita Ford established herself as a heavy metal pin-up singer, and when Cherie Currie established herself  intially as solo singer,  and later as an accomplished actor.

Where the Runaways was built on the idea that women playing rock music was a novelty, they transcended that novelty by putting guitars and drumsticks into the hands of other women. By the 80s and 90s, that novelty was no longer a novelty at all.  And as a result of their eventual impact on others, hard rock, metal, power pop, and punk were no longer boy’s clubs, expanding the cultural significance of the music, and making male svengalis into anachronisms.

For more information about the Runaways, check out


Gang of Four Perform “Damaged Goods”

gang_of_four_-_damaged_goodsListen to this song by post-punk architects, and cool-to-namecheck-in-an-interview pin-ups Gang of Four with their 1979 song “Damaged Goods”, a single from their masterpiece Entertainment.  This  album has sent ripples of influence out over the decades to bands as disparate as Fugazi, to Rage Against the Machine, to Interpol, to The Futureheads.  As such, it’s one of those rarities in pop music history – both of its time, and timeless.

This tune is a high point of a very high artistic pinnacle as it is, with the choppy guitar matched only with the clipped lead vocal that make it sound almost like funk from some other dimension.   The song, much like the rest of the album, seems to rely on texture as much as it does on hooks.

During a time where pop music was in a period of transition, this one stands out as being in a class by itself, stylistically speaking.  By 1979, lines had been drawn between what had come before and what was upcoming in rock music.  Being a fan of rock music wasn’t as simple as it had been, now that several streams of it had been established.  But, where does this sit exactly?

The labels of post-punk and new wave, like most musical labels, are hard  to pin down.  Yet, to me there are a few characteristics which earmark them.  One is a particular kind of contrast, which runs like a thread through the best of it.

This particular tune, for instance, is like the danciest song that you would ever hesitate to dance to, given the rueful lyrics that outline its anti-love song sentiments.  Yet, the music seems to invite your movement as much as its lyrics demand your cynicism.  It’s sexy, yet anti-sex.  It’s pop, yet it seems to revile all of the sentiments of traditional pop music.  As such, you’ve got a song, and a record, that is highly subversive in nearly every sense.  The band would continue on this trajectory, and remains to be an active concern today.

For more information about Gang of Four, check out the Gang of Four Facebook page.


D.O.A Plays Edwin Starr’s “War”

Listen to this song by West Coast Canadian punk institution D.O.A.  It’s “War”, a cover version of the 1970 Edwin Starr signature tune (written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong), and despite a view textural differences, it remains pretty much unchanged.  Who’d have thunk it?  Good God, eh?  The song is taken from the band’s 1982 album War on 45.

As has been roundly proven on this blog of mine, I love the cover version.  Not every cover version, of course.  But by this I mean I love the idea of the cover version, because the best of them takes a song out of its original context and quite often brings new meaning out of  it.  And sometimes, as in this case, the stylistic context doesn’t change the meaning at all.  War is still good for absolutely nothing (unless you’re an arms dealer or a politician whose favour in the polls is slipping…), whether it’s brassy soul-funk, or crunchy Vancouver punk rock.

Image courtesy of Bev Davies
Image courtesy of Bev Davies.  Bev took this picture of the band circa 1980, and last year made a calendar of all her shots of the West Coast punk scene here in Vancouver, of which D.O.A were instrumental in enlivening.  She continues her work as a rock photographer, and as a blogger.  Check out her website at, and her blog at

The point here is that the heart of the material is pretty intact.  War is still nothin’ but a heartbreak.  And dare I say that D.O.A lead singer Joey Shithead sounds downright soulful in his delivery here?  Punk rock is often held together in people’s minds as associated with a nihilist worldview.  Yet, D.O.A is pretty convincing here, respectful of the subject matter where they could easily just have taken the piss.  I’ve lost my stomach for ironic cover versions which do nothing but go to prove how ‘funny’ a band can be and without adding anything interesting to the material.

West Coast punk in the early 80s differed from a lot of late-70s UK punk in that there seemed to be a strong political dimension to it, and a spirit of activism which could help to explain the reasons for this cover version.   To prove a commitment to furthering the cause of a better world, Joey Shithead would go on to running provincially  as a member of the the Green Party of Canada in 1996 and 2001.  Of course he would do it under his given name, Joe Keithley.

Who says ‘no future for you’?

Joe Keithley currently runs his own label, Sudden Death Records.  Check out the line-up and investigate some of the associated MySpace pages for more music.


Thanks again to Bev Davies.

Le Tigre Perform “Deceptacon”

Here’s a clip of post-feminist dance-punk band Le Tigre with performing their 1999 track “Deceptacon”.  The track was featured on their debut album Le Tigre.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, it seemed that a number of new bands were discovering the wonders of early-80s post punk and electro-pop.  Yet Le Tigre brought in some of their own brand of retro-80s dance-punk, simply by adding something of the early 90s riot grrrl scene to the proceedings, as well as a hint of Japanese pop flavourings as well.   They come by the former pretty honestly of course, given that frontwoman Kathleen Hanna’s earlier outfit Bikini Kill was a part of that influential 90s scene.

I really like the idea of the riot grrl movement, because it places women in contexts where they have been mostly tolerated and rarely celebrated in the mainstream.  One such context would be one of rocking out, playing their instruments, and going beyond the idea of woman-as-eyecandy while on stage.

But, what I appreciate even more is the idea of bringing in the ferocity of punk to music that is clearly designed to be enjoyed by a dance audience.  And in this song, I love that when you really strip everything back, you’ve got an insistant central riff and a droning chord structure that is as sexy as any John Lee Hooker stomp.  Take away the synths, and I’m pretty sure you’ll find the Blues.

Despite a few line-up changes, Le Tigre are a going concern.  Check them out on the Le Tigre MySpace Page.


The Jam Perform ‘But I’m Different Now’

the_jam_-_sound_effectsListen to this track of Woking England mod-punk heroes The Jam with their 1980 deep cut ‘But I’m Different Now’ as taken from one of my favourite albums, Sound Affects.

The Sound Affects album is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to short, tough songs that are well-constructed and don’t outstay their welcome.  And where something like ‘That’s Entertainment’ is something of  a British kitchen sink drama, “But I’m Different Now” holds no ambitions about being anything else other than a pop song that really pops.  It has everything that makes for classic guitar-driven pop; a punchy rhythmic riff, a straightforward vocal delivery, tight playing, and even a nice little middle-eight section which gives the whole thing a great sense of pace.  And everything is under two minutes, people.

A lot of punk-pop these days takes a lot of hard knocks from purists. Yet, in some ways, the Jam were following the same template even in the late 70s and early 80s.   They were building on what came before and wearing their colours proudly. Clearly the ’65-’66 Who, The Sex Pistols, and 60s soul music are major contributors to their sound.  But even with a song like this under two minutes long, the Jam are proven to be unique.  They’ve got something.

It helps that Paul Weller was hitting a stride by 1980, and beginning to think about how to draw his musical interests together a bit more.  In some ways, the last few Jam records are a document of this process.  Of course, he would soon (in his opinion) outgrow this three-piece punk-rock-pop sound and dissolve the Jam after 1982’s The Gift.
in order to explore other musical avenues with the Style Council. It’s clear that his talent would outlive the punk/new wave trend, and that he would be among the most successful of his musical graduating class.

For more music and information Paul Weller Official Website. His new album 22 Dreams is gaining all kinds of critical praise.  It might be worth investigating, people.

And as mentioned previously here on the ‘Bin, Jam bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer  Rick Bucker have formed a new band with guitarist/vocalist Russell Hastings which incorporates new material mixed in with classic Jam songs.


Shonen Knife Play the Carpenters’ ‘Top of the World’

if_i_were_carpenterListen to this song by Japanese office clerks turned punk-pop princesses Shonen Knife with their 1994 take on the Carpenters’ classic ‘Top of the World’.  The tune is taken from the Carpenters’ tribute album If I Were a Carpenter, on which the hits of the Carpenters are covered by acts ranging from American Music Club, to Sheryl Crow, to Sonic Youth.

The first time I heard Shonen Knife, it was on TV, a musical segment program we have here in Canada aptly named the New Music.  Sadly, no such program has risen to take its place.  But, at its peak,  it followed some of the most notable bands active, many of which were way off of the beaten track.  And Shonen Knife are certainly that.  An all-girl punk-pop band, they formed in Osaka in the early 80s, and their initial tour of Japan happened when the members – Michie Nakatani (vocals and bass guitar), Naoko Yamano ( guitar), and Atsuko Yamano (drums) – took their vacation time from their day jobs and used the time to go on the road.

Generally speaking, the band’s material centres around a sound that draws heavily from the Ramones, and because of that from Phil Spectre girl-groups too.  But, lyrically the group is akin more to the Shaggs, singing about subjects that most rock songwriters don’t even consider.  They write about food a lot, for instance, and not as a euphemism for something else, mind.  Just food.

But one thing they put an emphasis on is melody, and with a huge pop sensibilty.  Maybe that’s why their take on punk rock is so attractive.  It’s not about what they’re saying or how they’re saying it.  It’s about the fact that they just are, and have infused their songs with pure, unadulterated fun.

Perhaps this ran contrary to many of their North American contemporaries by the early 90s when they began to make an impact here.  A lot of rock bands at the time were writing about weighty themes, and without all of the melodic sunshine that Shonen Knife brought.  But, it didn’t stop Sonic Youth,  Redd Cross, L7, and a number of other bands from loving them.  Kurt Cobain was an enormous Shonen Knife fan, and the band opened for Nirvana on a number of dates during both the Nevermind, and In Utero tours.

One thing I love in great pop music is something of the unexpected.  And another thing of course is a song that puts  across a sense of fun in writing and playing music because its a fun thing to do.  This cover tune of the Carpenters’ countrified hit, played in a pop-punk style and in their own accents takes in both.  It’s irresistible, good people!

Although the band has changed personnel since 1999, they remain to be active, having just released their Super Group album in Japan at the end of 2008.

For more information and more music, check out


Kenickie Perform “In Your Car”

attheclubHere’s a clip of punk-pop North-Eastern lasses (and a guy drummer) Kenickie with their 1997 British radio hit “In Your Car” as taken from their debut album At the Club. The band was named after John Travolta’s best friend in the movie Grease, which is kind of a teenage girl thing to do, maybe.

There are just some songs that make you smile, and one’s that are designed to make you laugh too.  With this tale of misunderstood intentions about what a ride home means from one person to another, this one is chock full of comedy.  It’s a  very British track that way, the Brits reveling in innuendo to a greater degree than we North Americans.  But the thing that grabbed me most about this song is the “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah yeah” chorus.  I’m a sucker for that.

I first heard this tune while sitting on my couch in a rented flat in Poplar,  in the East End of London, England.  I went there to work, and while there I got hooked on British music TV shows like Top of the Pops.  And this one was an instant classic for me when I saw Kenickie perform it one night on TotP, just because it was so much fun, with so little artifice.  And I love the sight of women playing electric guitars, who am I kidding?

Yet, it’s soaked in irony too, with the narrator who tells the tale of chatting up a guy for a lift home, complementing his car in such a way that it seems like she’s talking about something else entirely.  Yet, by the end of the song, it turns out that she was talking about the car all along.

The band themselves had a few more hits, a second album, and a John Peel session. But, just as sugar rushes tend to be short-lived, so were Kenickie.  Yet, Lauren Laverne made an impression as a gifted vocalist outside of the punk-pop idiom, singing solo and guesting on dance outfit  Mint Royale’s 2001 single “Don’t Falter” single, which was also a big radio hit.  Later, she would carve out a TV career as a presenter, framing her bubbly personality in a new medium.


The Rezillos Perform “Top of the Pops”

Here’s a clip of Scottish  punk-poppers the Rezillos with their 1978 single “Top of the Pops” performed here, as it happens, on the Top of the Pops TV show for that extra level of irony.  The song is included on the band’s self-deprecatingly titled  1978  LP Can’t Stand the Rezillos . It would remain to be their sole release, and this their biggest hit.

'Do ah luke uptee deet?' The Rezillos were a going concern until the early 80s when they changed their name to the Revillos in order to get out of their record contract. Their career trajectory was somewhat uncertain through the decade, and split up in 1985. They reformed as a touring unit in the 90s and are active today with a new lineup.

Punk rock is often associated with iconoclastic images, aggressive stage antics,  and abrasive sonic textures that basically approaches the business of rock ‘n’ roll as something of a blunt instrument.  Many punk bands justify that perception, of course.   Another important aspect of punk is that it involved the audience, not unlike the 60s folk boom did.  It reminded the audience that punk could be made by anyone who really wanted to make it, even if you didn’t play, or perhaps more importantly look, like a standard rock star.  Among many attributes, the Rezillos embodied this ideal.

In many ways, it’s entirely appropriate that this is their signature tune.  This is one of the songs about fame which has a fun, yet biting, edge to it.   Punk-pop is an oft-derided form these days, being as it is something of a worn out form thanks to Blink 182, Good Charlotte, and their ilk. This might be because the biting, satirical side to the music isn’t evident in modern punk-pop.  It’s costumes without cleverness.

Once upon a time, punk bands  were all about conveying the essence of a pop song without the frills, instead of trying to establish credentials as being ‘punk’.  In this, being a punk band makes for something of a catch-22 these days.   Perhaps more than any other form, punk is  defined by what it isn’t, rather than what it is, and the ins and outs of this are regularly debated among music fans.  Yet, with the first wave of British punk rock in the late 70s, these distinctions weren’t really that important.

I love this tune, sung in their own Edinburgh accents (another punk aesthetic: sing in your own voice), and  there is a certain self-awareness to be found in this song beyond its seemingly banal  lyrics.  What this band did on this tune was to put some art school cleverness in and disguise it as knock-off fun about the thrill of being on national TV.

Ultimately, what’s revealed is the basic absurdity of being in a band in the first place, making your name in the world by appealing to a faceless TV audience.  But, there’s not to be attention placed on this as the song is playing.  If you really get it, you’re too busy having fun to notice the irony.

For more music and information, check out the Rezillos MySpace page.


The Hives Perform “Walk Idiot Walk”

The_Hives_Tyrannosaurus_HivesHere’s a clip of shouty Swedish rock poseurs the Hives with “Walk Idiot Walk”, as taken from their 2004 Tyrannosaurus Hives album.

In rock music, there is something to be said for presentation.  And if it’s one thing that the Hives understand, it’s presentation.  With their matching outfits and their onstage personas of identically dressed arrogant rock saviours, they’ve injected some of the theatricality back into the music.  And with this, I think there is something of a full-circle effect at work.  The Nirvana generation of rock bands taught us that costumes and poses in rock were to be distrusted.  But when new rules arise, there are new ways to break them too. The Hives show just how punk rock costuming and theatricality can be  in this new paradigm

Of course, none of it would mean anything without the music itself, pulling from 60s garage rock and also from the Detroit proto-punk of the MC5 and, quite obviously, the Stooges’ “Raw Power”.  The songs are riff-centric and defiantly raw, boiled down to the bare minimum, and then cranked to eleven for taste.  And no song on this album outstays its welcome; they’re all under 3 minutes.  As for “Walk Idiot Walk”, this for me is music to tear up the seats by.

The problem which was in place for many years is that rock music had become this heavy, burdensome beast, a lumbering thing which had forgotten that it should be fun, above all.  I  have to say that the Hives, and other bands with the same kindred spirit such as the Hellacopters, the White Stripes, and the Dirtbombs, have brought rock music back toward where it should be.  And as a results, it hits us the fans right where it counts.

For more about the Hives, check out the Hives MySpace page.


The Dead Milkmen Perform ‘Punk Rock Girl’

Here’s a clip of pisstaking Pennsylvanian punks The Dead Milkmen performing their wonderfully hamfisted DIY love song “Punk Rock Girl” from their 1988 album Beelzebubba.  The song was an unlikely MTV hit, helped in part by the equally half-baked, yet hilarious video.

note the lack of a Grammy displayed in this picture.
The Dead Milkmen: note the lack of a Grammy displayed in this picture.

If ever there was a time for simple, slightly misbegotten punk rock, it was 1988 and the Milkmen were the johnnies on the spot.  They escaped critical praise for the most part, by seeming to care little for craft or for glory.  And their cult following was based around their derisive, yet humourous, attitude toward pop culture, and due to the fact that they had the smarts to write songs that speak directly to their audience’s experience.  The band’s world is the land of insecure teens, shopping malls, and casual juvenile delinquency, with a bit of young love thrown in.  Has rock’n’ roll ever been about anything else?

In this tune we get the young love tale, complete with disapproving parents, and somewhat random and disjointed us-against-the-world sentiments. It barely hangs together musically, and is largely dependent on the cheap laughs to fuel it.  This should be awful.  I should hate this.  But, as it is I always found it kind of endearing.  So many bands have tried to strike the balance between tunefulness and ‘wackiness’.  Mostly, I find this approach to be pretty repellent – I’m looking at you, Moxy Fruvous. But with these guys, they’ve got such little guile, so little ego invested, and so little technical skill of any kind, you kind of root for them anyway.

My favourite line in this tune?  Well, I think it might be:

“We got into her car away we started rollin’
I said how much you pay for this
Said nothin’ man it’s stolen…”

Yes – totally silly.  A cheap laugh.  I love it.  God help me.

1988 was my graduating year of high school, and I can tell you there wasn’t much on the radio that year that had much character.  Everybody was pretty busy Wang Chung-ing.  Yet this tune on heavy rotation on video channels was like a wonderful, half-cocked balm, a little blip on the sonic landscape that made me remember that pop music could still be about silliness and fun – that it didn’t have to be slick and made for mass consumption.  It could still be inconsequential, kind of catchy, yet still divide the room into those who got it, and those who didn’t.

For more music, check out the Dead Milkmen MySpace page.