Thursday, September 01, 2011

Suzi Quatro

Suzi Quatro was one of my early pop music fave raves, along with Slade. Mud T Rex and The Sweet of "Ballroom Blitz." Quatro came from the Nicky Chinn / Mike Chapman stable, along with The Sweet and soft rockers Smokie. She was the tiny, bass toting leather clad bad girl of glam rock with a series of killer rock singles. She is an American who made it good in the UK. Her sister Patti was in an all-girl band called Fanny. Suzi's husband Len Tuckey played guitar in her band. For some people Quatro became most famous as the character Leather Tuscadero in the sitcom Happy Days. And, apparently, she is still going at the age of 61.

Suzi Quatro was the best female rocker I knew before I heard Joan Jett.

Some NME 'scribe" paid Suzi Quatro the backhanded of saying that "Can The Can" (the first major hit) was a brilliant proto-girl power song and that she had lost it by the next release, "48 Crash." Honestly, I preferred "48 Crash" but this may be because I actually owned the single. In fact I also had "Daytona Demon." "Devil Gate Drive" and "The Wild One." I bought the singles, long after they were released, at Sygma Records who had a table full of boxes with budget priced singles in a room behind the main record store.

Suzi Quatro's music can be called glam rock or bubblegum rock and roll but the drum and bass heavy music was very exciting and energising to a gawky kid like me. I cannot say that Quatro ever was a rock 'n roll pin-up for me, as she did not seem all that sexy. The leather did not exactly do it for me and she was too small to seem dangerous. It was many years later before I could appreciate the virtues of being small, dark and dangerous

I've watched YouTube videos of "48 Crash" and the later song "Rock Hard" and in both videos Suzi Quatro looks incredibly young and vulnerable, especially in the older song, released when she was about 23 years old. She has serious lung capacity and could really scream in tune (like the Bee Gees) whilst playing a bass guitar that almost outranks her, though I believe she is an excellent bass player.. it is just slightly weird that one of the first upfront front women in rock looked so much like a 16 year old

The Quatro band had the unique selling proposition of a powerful chick singer who could also play a mean bass guitar. This also meant that the four piece band could be an instrumental four piece with guitar and keyboards. Most chick singers with bands just sang. Suzi Quatro was the first female rock front person I knew who also played an electric instrument. That she played bass was disturbingly unusual and cool at the same time. That she had a powerful voice was a major virtue.

The Chinn / Chapman songs were relatively simple, straightforward rockers with instantly memorable sing-a-long choruses and the production emphasised the booming, stomping drums that would have give these songs a distinctive edge at the rock disco. Quatro also recorded a fair share of standards like "All Shook Up", "You Keep A-Kockin:" and "Move It" but the tailor made tunes were by far the best probably precisely because they were written to suit her image.

"Daytona Demon" and "Devil Gate Drive" not only alliterate well but are clever examples of bubblegum rock with extended metaphors to suit a rocking chick like Suzi. I do not recall "Devil Gate Drive" ever receiving airplay on the SABC probably because the powers that be would not allow a song with 'devil' in the title to sully our pristine, Christian airwaves.

EMI Records has a budget priced compilation of Suzi Quatro's greatest hits in the period 1973 to 1979 that I recently bought at Musica as part of a 3 CD's fro R99,00 promotion. The other two albums were Gallo Records' compilations of best tunes of South African acts Mango Groove and the Soul Brothers. I guess I have a pretty eclectic record collection.

Be that as it may, the Quatro collection has all the songs you would want to hear and some I had not heard of before, such as her versions of Bruce Springsteen's "Born To Run" and Steve Harley's "Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)". There are also the slower songs "If You Can't Give Me Love", "Stumblin' In" and "She's In Love With You" to showcase the more mature, sensitive side of the rocker chick. And possibly the point that rockers need to get serious about love too. A glaring omission as far as I am concerned is the failure to include "Rock Hard" from the Times Square movie soundtrack. "Rock Hard" was Quatro's take on New Wave and a damn fine take at that. Perhaps it did not fit the compilation's theme of Seventies hits or perhaps the soundtrack was not on EMI.

The pure sugar rush of the first batch of singles is still unsurpassed. I find that I want to keep playing this CD over and over again. The sequencing is chronological and only the slight slow down in pace of "Fever" interrupts the adrenaline run from "Can The Can" to "The Wild One." After that first wave has crashed against the beach, the songs become more proficient and businesslike, like Suzi-by-numbers and to a degree the cover versions of more contemporary songs like "Make Me Smile" or "Born to Run" are more satisfying because the evade the stereotype Quatro attitude. I must say, though, that where "Make Me Smile" works quite well., this version of "Born To Run" makes no sense. The pace and dynamism of the Springsteen version are sore missed and though the point of the song seems a good fit for the Quatro image, she sounds a little lost.

Although Suzi Quatro was no one hit wonder I would imagine her music is best appreciated in the format of an all hits compilation like this. It is just about all killer and no filler.; even my doubts about the latter-day Suzi-by-rote and dubious cover versions cannot really sustain a contrary opinion.

Having said that, I could happily have lived with a 10-track greatest hits album. Just the super hits and nothing but the super hits. That would be mainlining the Quatro factor and it would be no bad thing. It's silk sash bash, after all.



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