Friday, May 9, 2008
"This photo was taken at Mavericks by Bruce Rhodes, this is when we were at our best, this is when we meant it and practiced every night. It seemed like we played Mavericks every weekend like we were the house band our fans, most who seemed underage probably becuz they were, would dance and scream along with us and you'd see the same faces every week hardcore kids who were sick of the rigid rules of their scene and wanted to throw back a beer and cute punk rock girls......oh the cute punk rock girls.....nothing better than cute punk rock girls.....nothing, by the way that's Dickie on stage doing the mad skank, it was a great time we'd hang at Queensbury St all day
go to the gig blast off and head back partying till dawn we were far from straight edge and had no desire to be, we were going to be the next Clash, SLF.......oh fuck that we wanted to be the next Stones or Who......it was a great scene and a great time." So says Jimmy Keough and I totally agree, except for one thing. Yeah, punk rock girls were pretty cute, but not as cute as the punk rock boys!
Recent news that Boston's favorite boy band was reuniting got my attention until I realized that they were talking about some dumbass new kids, not boys. Stranglehold was always MY favorite boy band from Boston. Two seventeen year-olds, a nineteen year-old and the old man of the group clocked in at twenty. Not one among them old enough to legally buy a beer. How could they nail everything so right? Through
the years I often remembered how I'd loved Stranglehold beyond reason,but I had forgotten why. Until I stumbled across them on MySpace and heard them again. I can't believe what I've been missing. Won't fucking let that happen again.
What's a queen to do when she wakes up with one of JR's Stranglehold
basslines thumping incessantly through her head? After thanking the
gods that Stranglehold found each other and formed the band, she jumps out of bed and runs downstairs to check and see if Amazon has
delivered on its' second day shipping promise and dropped a big ol'
package of Stranglehold off at the royal front door. They haven't.
Dammit. Tomorrow is the weekend, no deliveries. Hey Amazon, you're
supposed to drop the package, not the ball. Now what? There's no way I
have time to dig through the vaults and find the vinyl. Even if I did,
I wouldn't play it, I saw on the internet that copies are going for
seventy-five dollars! Not that I'd ever sell it, but still. Nevermind.
Calm down and fire up the computer and go to MySpace, hit
Stranglehold's page and relax. The basslines will be real soon enough.
Same All Over starts to blast and I am a happy queen. Transported back
in time. Ah yes, that's muuuuch better. There's only six tracks there,
but it will do for now. Who comes here and practically ignores the
original Same All Over? Philistines! Oh well, at least they have the
good taste to seek out Stranglehold in the first place. Just don't try
to download any of the songs on a Saturday morning or you'll totally
Stranglehold's page lists Stiff Little Fingers, The Undertones and The
Clash among their influences and I certainly won't argue with any one
of them. I might take the liberty of adding Unnatural Axe to the list.
I felt Axe in them too. They even looked a little like Unnatural Axe.
Red-headed Irish boy frontman rhythm guitarist songwriter? Check. Mad
long-legged genius crazy man on the bass? Check. A mysterious dark
haired songwriter who played the most sincere goddamned guitar you
ever heard and was cheerful to the point of goofiness? They had that
too. The only difference really was that Stranglehold would go through
only two drummers while Unnatural Axe has an official drummer count of six at this time. I state this as fact because I got it in a message from Tommy White himself, and that is good enough for me. Oh the drummers Stranglehold could have gone through given the time. Sigh. The Axe had been as young when they started too, lo back in the
previous decade. Cripes, I can remember going to Axe shows in the late 70's where I could almost still smell the formula on their breath. I digress. So we have Jimmy Keough, Jonathan Roberts, Richie McKenzie and John Murdock as founding members of Stranglehold. In the final analysis, there were two Strangleholds. There'd eventually be another drummer, Mark D'Antona, and another lead guitarist, Chris Doherty.
Chris was a band rat who was a friend and a fan. He was growing tired of playing hardcore at all ages shows, the poor jaded old thing, so he gnawed his way onto the stage to play some guitar with Stranglehold. The roadies set out his beer in a sippy cup. It was a different Stranglehold. Before Chris, they were mono. Compelling because of the raw vitality of the sound. The pureness of it practically heart
stopping. There was so much power and restrained wildness in the music the initial combo produced and they put it out with a resolute single mindedness and workmanlike precision that was awesome to behold. It sounded alive and uncut. A force of nature. Chris plays and makes them stereo. His guitar was so lush it took up a lot of space. His sound plugged up holes in your brain that you didn't know were there. Heady stuff. It's impossible to choose which Stranglehold I love the most, so I just crave both. Sometimes I sneak into iTunes and arrange the songs in a more chronological order. It's my OCD kicking in.
They must have rehearsed about five hundred hours a week because Stranglehold could not only stop on a dime, they could screech to a halt in one of the grooves between the ridges on the side of the fucking dime, do a one-eighty, flip the dime off for good measure and leave it looking like it had been run over and flattened by a freight train. It was mind blowing how everyone would be going off in
different directions and then suddenly, with a crashing collision, it
was all together again. GO! Holding back the ska just tightly enough
to make it seem dangerous. Sometimes, the guitars sounded so metallic
you could swear you were hearing horns, or they'd all snarl together
in a riot of scribbling texture and bounce. The leads could sizzle, skitter, and pop over everything like cold water hitting a smoking hot surface. It was there and gone in almost the same second. JR's badass bass thumped into your heart and he truly seemed possessed by the music, just on the edge of out of control. The maniacal drumming made you want to twist yourself into oblivion. And Jimmy's voice.
Seven-fucking-teen and he sounded like he'd lived a long VanGoghian existence already. When he sang it was like some living feral thing had been caught in his throat and was struggling to escape, yet fearful of what it might find if it did get out. How could one so young sound so raggedly tortured already? How? I don't know, but it
was a thing of majestic beauty to hear. Utterly transporting. Their beats were insanely danceable. Oh yeah, roll your eyes back in your head and bounce for the set. They were just so much fun! It made it impossible to have a bad time. Even if your low-down stinking boyfriend was cheating on you behind your back while he used you, it
didn't matter. That stuff happened all the time. Stranglehold didn't happen all the time, so when you saw them, you enjoyed the hell out of it.
Their Crash & Burn CD is a must have. Like most great masterpieces of a certain age, there is some damage to this artifact. While there may be technical problems on some of the tracks, the overall whole is so captivating, majestic and true you hardly notice it. Much like the Venus de Milo, a limb or two may be missing or damaged, but you don't
just slag off Venus, do you? It's a disc full of songs you could laid to or go to war with. These are the kind of songs that I got in on the ground floor of rock and roll for. Singing just as easily of a longing for an older woman (what? 21?) and the sheer adorableness of getting a modest kiss to the exquisite pain of first heartbreaks. What I'd give if my heart could break like that again. Songs about girls, tired and
beaten up hearts, crashing parties, universal high school truths, bumming rides and sussing out hidden motives. I give so much credit for seeing through a lot of relationship crap while being barely, if even, out of high school. Nothing political to bring you down. No songs that made you stop and think 'Christ, I really should be out
there protesting!' instead of in here having fun. Beer the only substance abused. And pure, ecstatic energy beaming off the stage at you and bouncing all around. Motivated by the music and the bands fantastic repertoire of stage jumps and lunges you could not stand still and would end up dancing for the whole set. Add in all the drunken scream along choruses and you were in for a severely good time. Stranglehold was one of finest and funnest bands ever. The Keeper of the MySpace page has posted some songs from their CD and I'd like to chime in with my thoughts on those. Songs posted are subject to change, so check in there once in awhile to see what's up.
The intro drums of Cause I'm Gonna sound like a thunder cloud roiling
in the distance with an army of guitars to back it up. Suddenly it's
there, right overhead and in your face, pouring down over you. Fierce
and defiant. It is a more stirring and primeval call to arms than
Blitzkreig Bop. There I said it. The Ramones WISH they had written
this one. And I say this loving the Ramones more than life itself. I
don't really care if you think that's geeky.
There's two versions of Same All Over. The original version has myriad charms. The lead guitar meshes perfectly with all the other parts to form a pleasingly seamless whole that sounds sort of like airplane noise. Oh hell, all of the guitars on this one are perfect. Jimmy makes noises that sound like a ship being torn asunder. With a rock
steady beat. You can't not dance to it.
I always love it when bands do covers because it provides a great shortcut to understanding what they're all about. Hearing the way a band treats a well-loved song can tell you fairly quickly whether you're gonna like them or not. An added bonus with this track is that you get to hear the band play live on 'ERS and experience the shattering tightness of Stranglehold in the wild. The Undertones love is on full display in a gripping, ripping version of Gotta Getta. Faithful Undertones fans...what's not to love?
Any Way I Can is about those times when you've been horribly wronged, you're pissed off about it and you think a simple change of scenery will make it all better. Sorta like a car, cranky and questioning, the guitars will drive you far away from it all.
I have recently been informed that She's Not Leaving is a simple break-up song. Ha! Only a male could describe a break-up as simple. Then I must examine more closely why it makes my Spidey Sense tingle. What makes this song sound slightly sinister to me? Probably one of those broke-up-in-an-unfortunate-location things. Like it happened at the corner Dunkin' Donuts and now everyone has to be reminded of it
every time they pass by and can't stop there for coffee anymore. That would suck. I love this song. It has some fearsome bass lines. If you happen to scream along to this one, watch out. Stranglehold is tricky and will try to fool you in the end.
The second version of Same All Over sounds brilliantly live, right down to stuff getting smashed, people talking and a radio playing in the background. It's an explosion of noises that manages to sound spontaneous. There are so many layers there, yet the whole thing makes sense and makes the song a joy to listen to. Ending at just shy of
five minutes, it's almost as long as you want it to be. I do like how the vocals on the newer version are much clearer and sung with a more intriguing phrasing. Here, if I had to pick I'd go with the longer version just because it's longer and, yes, a tad showier. As Mikey Mermaid always used to say, deep down, I'm really shallow.
The fact that over half of the songs are produced by the band is astounding. The rest are culled from live radio performances and their 7" Leisure Tour '84 record. So they write the songs, play the songs and for good measure, produce them as well. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that they drilled for the oil to make the vinyl and logged the trees for paper for the record sleeve. I'd give my engraved Cantone's ashtray to hear what they would have done with more time and more songs in the studio. What I'm trying to tell you is that this is good shit. Ramones good. Clash good. Axe good. Do I even have to say Stiff Little Fingers? Haven't you been paying attention? It's a freaking crime that there is no video of Stranglehold. Most of their live tapes have gone missing. My wish would be that you end up loving this band like I love them. Go ahead, it will be good for you. Jimmy wrote about a conversation he had with Richie recently during a rehearsal for a new band they're putting together. There really is no place like home.
"....I said dude we were together two years I was nineteen for Christ sakes......he said buddy we managed to squeeze in two what most bands take ten to do....and then we both agreed we were never better than when we were at Mavericks as a four piece, with John on drums, we really meant it we were trying hard and it was a great scene."