Thursday, August 25, 2011

Musical Interlude: Rockpile

A little over a year ago my friend and great musician EB accosted me in a record store, put Dave Edmunds' lp Repeat When Necessary in my hands, and said "buy this" with the intense seriousness of the ancient mariner in Coleridge's poem. I obeyed, even though I knew nothing of Edmunds' work, I was soon glad for it. Without a doubt, it was two of the best bucks I ever spent.

I then found out that the killer band on that album was called Rockpile, and that they backed Nick Lowe on his first two long players (the essential Jesus of Cool and Labour of Lust) and another Edmunds platter, Tracks on Wax 4, before doing one last album, Seconds of Pleasure, under their own name. Despite the official credits, I think of the first four albums as Rockpile records with different lead singers. (In case you're wondering, the group was Edmunds on guitar, Nick Lowe on bass, Billy Bremner on lead guitar, and the inestimable Terry Williams on drums.) In the short time since I've managed to acquire all of these albums (and all on wax save for Jesus of Cool) and have enjoyed them immensely. All of these albums were recorded between 1978 and 1980, a great time for left of center rock music when New Wave meant more the angular rhythms and straight-ahead songs of the likes of Elvis Costello and less Flock of Seagulls hair wrapped up in gated snares and Fairlight synthesizers. These blokes were not trendy, lacking the hair of Kajagoogoo and the clothes of Duran Duran, but an honest-to-goodness bar band with major league chops.

"Girls Talk," the first track of that fateful Dave Edmunds record, hooked me right away. I knew the tune already as a bonus track off of Elvis Costello's Get Happy!, but was really taken aback at how Rockpile made it both rocky and relaxed at the same time. Instead of EC's bitter-tinged revenge and guilt vibe, it had a great and strange feeling of resignation despite the driving beat.

Think that was catchy? Then try "Cruel to Be Kind" on for size. I swear there were about two months there where I would sing this to myself as I walked into the office each morning. The stress and insanity of my job had me singing aloud, it's a wonder I never showed up in my pajamas taking swigs of bourbon from a flask. At least some people were understanding, the work study student in the main office heard me once, and actually knew the song! Perhaps there is hope for the future.

Nick and the guys rock out a little more on "So It Goes," a tune whose repeated line, "where it's goin', no one knows" is appropriate in these days of earthquakes, hurricanes, credit downgrades, and stock market crashes.

The only Rockpile tune I really knew when I first heard it apart from "Girls Talk" was "Teacher, Teacher", which was a minor hit way back in 1980. Still holds up damn well today, though, which is a helluva lot more than be said than most other music from that year. Despite the shifting trends and changing fashions, a tight band with hummable tunes will never lose its appeal.

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