Monday, February 17, 2020

Flashback #11 - Suzi Quatro

A few months back I collared a copy of The Very Best Of Suzi Quatro.  Why the hell am I telling you this, you ask?
Well, I was on a major Dr Feelgood kick at the time, and after listening to Lee Brilleaux growling his way through a heap of excellent stuff I found that in some idle moments I was hearing his voice rumbling through the chorus of Suzi’s number one hit ‘Devil Gate Drive’.  Bizarre I know, but true.
Anyway, this took me back to my school days, as I was eleven when Quatro first broke through with the stomping and wailing ‘Can The Can’ in June 1973, adding to the innocent pleasures
Suzi Quatro cans the can - whatever that means!
I found in the glam rock canon of the time.  And it’s maybe worth emphasising “innocent pleasures”, because even as an impressionable school kid I never really found Suzi all that sexy, regardless of her leather jumpsuit with low slung zipper.  Her readily apparent tomboy nature dispersed pretty much any sense of sultriness there might have been.
What she did seem to exhibit though, was an enjoyment of rock’n’roll that imbued her big hits.  She didn’t write them of course – they came off the assembly line of songwriting and producing duo Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who also came up with hit singles for Sweet and Mud among others.  But when the Chinnichap pair clicked with an artist they could really deliver the goods, and in Suzi Quatro’s case that meant three million-selling singles, culminating in the wonderful ‘Devil Gate Drive’.  It was corny to be sure, not least in the Top Of The Pops appearance linked above, where her band embarked on the dorkiest of dance routines in the bridge.  But to a kid starting to enjoy music it was three minutes and something of irresistible, ramshackle fun.
So with all of the above in mind I went out and got myself Suzi’s Very Best Of cd - or to be entirely accurate, double cd.  Hell, it only cost £5.99.
Unsuprisingly, imagining that Quatro’s best demands two cds was fanciful on someone's part.  Her run of hits peaked with ‘Devil Gate Drive’, and pretty much ground to a halt within the year, in Britain at least – and the one big success she subsequently managed in 1978, ‘If You Can’t Give Me Love’, was the most godawful country mush, foreshadowing some dreadful later recordings.  Maybe Chinn and Chapman were spread too thin, servicing other acts, but one way or another the collection tails off into quite a lot of dross.
Still, Suzi may have been groomed (as it were) by Mickie Most, the owner of her record label RAK, her hits may have been penned by others, and her vocals sometimes have a banshee tone to terrify the local dog population, but in her better moments she had an endearing commitment to the virtues of old-fashioned rock’n’roll.  Her so-called Very Best includes her belting out the likes of ‘All Shook Up’, ‘Shakin’ All Over’, Cliff’s ‘Move It’, and a rollicking live version of Little Richard’s ‘Keep A Knockin’’.  She even gives it some welly on a cover of Johnny Winter’s ‘Rock And Roll Hootchie Koo’.
So maybe it’s not really so bizarre to wonder what a Feelgood-like R’n’B band would make of ‘Devil Gate Drive’.  And whatever her evident limitations, Suzi Quatro will always be part of my pre-teen musical firmament, god bless her.  Happy days.

Coincidentally, I’m currently reading Stuart Maconie’s book Cider With Roadies, about the evolution of his musical fandom.  Maconie is of the same vintage as me, and writes a highly entertaining chapter about the glam rock era.  He preferred Marc Bolan to Slade though, the weirdo.

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