The Stray Cats Play “Rock This Town”

The Stray Cats Rock This TownListen to this track by Atlantic criss-crossing  rockabilly revivalist trio The Stray Cats. It’s “Rock This Town”, their 1981 single as taken off of their debut record The Stray Cats. It would appear again the next year on the US-released Built For Speed album, which EMI released in North America on the strength of that earlier UK record.

The band was from Long island, forming on the New York scene playing both Max’s Kansas City and CBGB, with those scenes being breeding grounds for all kinds of “back to basics” approaches, even if the Stray Cats went back further than most. It was the enduring Ted scene in Britain that lured them across the pond, where they would eventually record their initial two albums, and this single with Rockpile’s Dave Edmunds as producer, himself known for his love of the Sun Records sound.

The single eventually hit top ten in the US and here in Canada, too. But how? Read more

Rockpile Featuring Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds Perform ‘When I Write The Book’

Listen to this track from pub-rock holdovers and back to basics rock-pop craftsmen Rockpile, featuring singer, songwriter, bassist, and producer Nick Lowe, along with rock n roll revivalist Dave Edmunds.  It’s ‘When I Write The Book’, a tuneful treat for the ear as featured on the band’s sole album, Seconds of Pleasure from 1980.

A album like this from musicians of this caliber had tons and tons of promise.  Yet, it would be something of a burst of energy that ultimately fizzled out.  But, that has nothing to do with the songwriting, particularly not on this tune which is rooted in the best tradition of early rock n roll and early 60s Brill Building pop.  The passions felt by both Lowe and Edmunds for this period of musical history is palpable.  And what’s best, they were able to translate that enthusiasm in a live setting, as well as here on vinyl.

Perhaps expectations for this album were based on the more ragged, visceral ferocity of the back-to-basics approach as championed on the pub rock scene out of which both Edmunds and Lowe sprang.  ‘When I Write The Book’, for instance is not a growling R&B number, but more like a Goffin-King girl group throwback which sounds like a more sensible second cousin to the type of skinny tie new wave being made by people like Wreckless Eric, who also sprang from pub rock and from the Stiff Records crowd.

But in Nick Lowe’s case, he had always veered closer to the poppier end of the pop rock spectrum, where Dave Edmunds mined the Sun Records rockabilly end to a greater extent.  Perhaps it’s this tension which makes this song, and the rest of the album, pop with such jubilance.  It could also be the reason Rockpile never made it past their debut, and that Lowe and Edmunds would continue separately.

This band consisted of Lowe on bass, Edmunds on guitar, Terry Williams on drums, and Billy Bremner on guitar.  Since the mid-70s, they played on solo records by leaders Edmunds and Lowe (who were on different labels as solo artists), and gained a reputation as a forced to be reckoned with as a live act before this debut.  They in fact had recorded three other albums together as a unit.  Two were Edmunds solo albums (Tracks on Wax 4 and Repeat When Necessary), and a third was one of Lowe’s Labour of Lust on which his most recognizable song “Cruel to Be Kind” is also featured . And as if to prove their range of musical talent even further, they also backed up country singer Carlene Carter (to whom Lowe had been married at the time).

Their musical range presented both a huge potential, and something of a detriment, too. When you’ve got a record with cover versions by 60s psych band the Creation, soul man Joe Tex, rock pioneer Chuck Berry, and by Difford & Tilbrook of  new wave pop outfit Squeeze, you know your getting an eclectic listening experience. But, perhaps you’re not getting a record by a band who’s found their focus.

Besides how well or not the songs sit together, ‘When I Write The Book’ is an enormously charming pop song, with stunning harmony and call-and-response verve.  If there was ever any doubt about Nick Lowe as a songwriter with an ear for big pop song hooks, then let them be banished here.  He would take this talent and build on it into his continuing solo career with songs like ‘Rose of England’, which is another one of my favourites of his.  And Edmunds would continue to wave the banner high for traditional rock n’ roll in the spirit of the Founding Fathers.

Who knows what the key factor was for the false start which was Rockpile.  Perhaps they were individually too big for their boots to keep the band together, which perhaps explains why the project arguably lacks a certain cohesion in the ears of critics.   Of course, despite the dissolution of Rockpile as a formal band, the members would continue to collaborate through the 1980s and into the 1990s.  A fierce love of rock n’ roll between colleagues is hard to kill, after all.

To read more, check out the full story of Rockpile.