- I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org). As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia! Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton. I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, The Syracuse New Times, Big Stir magazine, and AHOY Comics. I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me? My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored. Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.
Thursday, June 21, 2018
THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Suzi Quatro
Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock 'n' roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it's the subsequent visits--the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time--that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every story still needs to begin with that first kiss.
It was love at first sight.
Teen idolatry--specifically, the sort of starry-eyed quasi-romantic longing that conjures adolescent yearning for long walks in the moonlight hand-in-hand with the teen heartthrob du joir--has been part of pop music for as long as there has been pop music. I mean, I can't speak for the probability of giggling young girls once makin' ga-ga noises over noted hottie Ludwig von Beethoven, but Frank Sinatra? King Elvis I? Paul McCartney, Mark Lindsay, Bobby Sherman, and the lads in One Direction? Girls swooned over posters and magazines, LP covers and 45 sleeves, and kissed Monkees bubblegum cards with earnest, whispered wishes to one day become Mrs. Davy Jones: I'll be true to you, yes I will.
That was the girls. Boys? Not so much.
That's the image, anyway. In reality, kids won't always follow the rigid scripts adults throw at them. There were girls who found this whole notion of getting wobbly-kneed over a pretty face just absurd. There were boys and girls whose pop dreams favored teen idols with whom they shared a gender. And there must have been boys dreaming of sweet pecks on the lips from Mary Weiss of The Shangri-Las, or Marianne Faithfull, or Chaka Khan. In North Syracuse in 1975, there was certainly one fifteen-year-old boy who saw Suzi Quatro on the cover of a magazine, and promptly fell in love. And yes, of course that boy was me.
The divine Miss Suzi was not my first pop crush; that was probably Nancy Sinatra circa "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'," or possibly Lesley Gore when she sang "California Nights." Expanding beyond the chanteuses who caught my eye, my other pop crushes likely included every pretty actress I ever saw on TV, from Yvonne Craig and Bridget Hanley through Linda Evans and all the women who ever appeared in Star Trek reruns. And Lorrie Menconi, Playboy's Miss February 1969. Nor was Suzi my final pop crush, as Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett, P.J. Soles, and Vanity were still off in my future when the calendar read '75. But fickle and fleeting as I may have been, Suzi Quatro always remained my # 1.
I can't say for certain how that particular issue of Rolling Stone found its way into my living room. Both of my older brothers were married and gone from the household by '75, so the RS probably belonged to my sister Denise. It could also have come from my Dad, who worked at the post office and occasionally brought home subscription magazines that had been discarded as undeliverable. However it arrived in my suburban home, it was the cover of the Rolling Stone, dated January 2, 1975, that introduced me to this unfamiliar rock 'n' roll chick named Suzi Quatro.
Smitten. Immediately, irrevocably smitten.
Why? Man, answering that would be like trying to tell a stranger about rock 'n' roll. Some would say she wasn't conventionally pretty in the way you'd expect a pinup or poster girl to be, but I found her irresistibly cute. It wasn't even like the pictures of her in Rolling Stone were overtly sexy or deliberately provocative (though the cover and one interior photo did show how her leather pants loved to hug her derriere). I wish I could claim I was a budding feminist at 15, engaged not by Quatro's looks but by her intelligence and personality, and by her music...but I'd be lyin'. I'd never heard her music, and I don't know how much of her wit and wisdom could be ascertained from a casual read of a rock rag piece where she discussed the pros and cons of getting a tattoo on her butt. No, I have to admit it was something about her look. I was fascinated. And I was in love with her, as surely as all those girls reading 16 and Tiger Beat were in love with Donny Osmond.
It was a love with no kindling to feed its fire. In the immediate aftermath of discovering her, I didn't see any more articles about Suzi Quatro. I didn't hear her music on the radio. I didn't see her on TV. I'm not sure if I saw any of her records at Gerber Music, but even if I had, I didn't yet have enough concrete motivation to make a purchase. I was in love with a face, and a body wrapped tightly in leather; I had no idea if that was enough to make me a fan of the Suzi Quatro sound.
On May 1st of 1975, Alice Cooper was scheduled to appear in Syracuse for a concert at the Onondaga County War Memorial...WITH SUZI QUATRO OPENING...?! Glorioski! I thought Alice Cooper was one of the coolest things on AM radio at the time, and with Suzi Quatro on the bill, I knew I had to be there. My parents did not agree with the inevitability of this rendezvous, and refused permission. Years later, I would realize that my Dad was concerned about my seemingly fragile machismo, and was not going to allow his son to see a guy named Alice, no way, no how. I don't know if Dad would have felt differently if he suspected my potentially prurient interest in Suzi Quatro. I missed my chance to see Alice Cooper, and my initiation into the musical world of Suzi Quatro's music was likewise deferred.
That initiation finally took place in either late '75 or in 1976. I'm not sure of the precise time frame, nor the exact sequence of events. Somewhere in there, I found and purchased a cut-out copy of Suzi Quatro, her debut LP. I can't remember if that was before or after I saw Suzi Quatro on TV. For the sake of the narrative, let's presume it was after.
Supersonic was a British rock 'n' roll TV series, showcasing performers in a cheesy '70s studio setting, lip-syncin' their hits and wannabe hits. It was briefly carried on Saturday afternoons by WPIX in New York City, and available to cable subscribers in Syracuse's suburbs. I watched it when I could, eager as I was for more and more rockin' pop, whenever and wherever. I saw some familiar acts on Supersonic, from The Hollies to The Bay City Rollers to The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. I saw that loathsome little bug Gary Glitter. I saw a number of other performers my memory won't surrender. Supersonic looms largest in my legend for one thing only: showing me Suzi Quatro on TV.
There she was. One Saturday afternoon in the '70s, the date long faded away, but the image still vivid in my mind. Suzi Quatro. She was beautiful. And hey, whaddaya know? She rocked!
I was transfixed. Hey, ya heard about Susie from Baton Rouge? She wasn't asking me, but I shook my head, jaw agape, as she continued, Well, lemme tell you 'bout it! Guitars and drums, a churning '70s bop, grinding forward, Suzi Quatro's bass booming as she not-quite-sneered, not-quite-smiled her way through.
Awright. This deal was sealed as far as I could see. Marry me, Suzi!
It was the only time I saw Suzi on Supersonic, or anywhere else for a while thereafter. And I didn't catch the damned title of the song! I spent years looking for something called "Little Susie From Baton Rouge," or "I'm Just Waitin' For You," or, I dunno, "Suzi Quatro's Love Theme From Supersonic," all to no avail. I bought the above-mentioned eponymous Suzi Quatro album, either before or after seeing her on Supersonic, and that song was not on the album. And the album...aw, the album didn't do all that much for me, dammit.
Suzi Quatro ain't exactly a bad record. mind you. It contains not one, but two of her all-time signature tunes, "Can The Can" and "48 Crash," plus "Glycerine Queen" and covers of Elvis' "All Shook Up" and The Beatles' "I Wanna Be Your Man." At the time, I only knew the latter as a track on Meet The Beatles, not realizing that John and Paul had originally written it for Mick, Keith, and Brian, or that it had been The Rolling Stones' first hit in the UK. At 16 or so, I was intrigued by the notion of a female singing about wanting to be someone's man, though it really just meant that Quatro didn't care enough about gender politics to be bothered; she just wanted to sing the song, you stupid boys. Kinda like Ringo singing The Shirelles' "Boys" on the first Beatles album. It wasn't a statement; it was benign indifference.
I like the album more now than I did then, and I didn't exactly dislike it then. But it never threatened to overtake the top of my pops, not like Sweet or The Raspberries, or like Suzi's song on Supersonic might have. My Suzi Quatro fandom meandered after that. I picked up a used promo copy of her Your Mama Won't Like Me album on a visit to Record Revolution or The Record Exchange in Cleveland Heights; other than a track called "Paralyzed," most of the album's hybrid hard rock/faux funk posturing left me unimpressed. In the summer of 1978, I purchased an import Suzi Quatro album called Aggro-Phobia; the LP was two years old by then, but I'd never seen it before, and rightly figured What the hell--why not?
I'd never quite stopped searching for that elusive, unidentified Quatro song I'd heard on Supersonic. It didn't seem to be on her second album Quatro, an album I wouldn't hear until a few more years thereafter, and it didn't seem to be anywhere. I'm sure I was hoping it would be on Aggro-Phobia, but it was not. However, Aggro-Phobia did include a track which seemed to be a companion piece, since its mention of "Louisiana Sue" was a direct reference to Little Susie from Baton Rouge. The Aggro-Phobia track was called "Tear Me Apart."
I'll make your legs start shakin' every time you hear my name
There'll be no heartbreakin', and you know you'll never be the same
Don't talk to me about Louisiana Sue
'Cause she can't do the things that I can do
So tear me apart if you wanna win my heart
I loved "Tear Me Apart," a brash and confident rock 'n' roller that moved more fluidly and winningly than any other Quatro track I owned up to that point. Most of Aggro-Phobia was forgettable for me; "Tear Me Apart" was classic.
Although Quatro was originally from Detroit (where she and her sisters started a band called The Pleasure Seekers when she was 14), she found stardom in England, stardom that did not translate back in the colonies. In 1977, Quatro had begun appearing in a few episodes of TV's Happy Days, playing anachronistic chick rocker Leather Tuscadero. I bought a Suzi Quatro poster at Economy Bookstore in Syracuse, and displayed it proudly in my dorm room alongside my KISS and Sex Pistols. 1979 brought Suzi's belated American success: "Stumblin' In," a duet with Chris Norman, broke through the American Top 40 in early '79, peaking at # 4. I was happy for her success, while remaining resolutely uninterested in any of it. I tried to get into her hit album If You Knew Suzi..., but it was a lost cause. In the midst of my embrace of punk and power pop, If You Knew Suzi... was, well...boring. I didn't know Suzi, nor was I about to.
That said, 1980's Rock Hard had some pretty damned good moments, and I wish I'd been more aware of them at the time. I knew the title track from its inclusion on the cool soundtrack album to Times Square, a film intended to do for new wave music what Saturday Night Fever had done for dat ole debbil disco. I liked that track just fine, but it wouldn't be until years later that I discovered a couple of other cuts from Rock Hard--the peppy pop song "Love Is Ready" and the way-cool "Gloria" ripoff "Lipstick"--that I liked even better.
I did eventually identify that track I'd seen Suzi Quatro mime on Supersonic years before. I think it was in the early '90s, rummaging through 45s at a great North Syracuse record store called Knuckleheads (Motto: We ain't in no mall!), when I found a Quatro single called "I May Be Too Young." Cash made it mine, and a spin on the ol' home turntable verified that my search had finally reached its end.
I may be too young to fall in love
But I'm still hangin' 'round
I'm waitin' for you
I'm just waitin' for you
You're never too young to fall in love. I wasn't too young to fall in love with Mary Rose Tamborelli when I was five, nor with Suzette Mauro when I was six, and they weren't too young to fall in love with me. Temporarily. They got over me quickly--a little too quickly in Suzette's case, if you ask me--but we weren't too young to fall in the first place. You're not too young to fall in love with people, whether as friends or potentially something more. You fall in love with all sorts of sparkly things. You fall in love with books and movies, cartoons, comics, favorite meals, art and artifice. You fall in love with stars. At 15, I fell in love in Suzi Quatro.
One Sunday afternoon around 1976 or '77, I was chatting with another music fan at the flea market. The subject of Suzi Quatro came up, and he insisted that she'd posed for Penthouse, and that she'd released a live-in-Japan album called Naked Under Leather. I don't know about the latter claim, but the Penthouse thing was nonsense. That was never Suzi Quatro's image. She never pandered, never tried to be sexy or provocative in that way. She wanted to rock like the boys rocked. She wanted to be your man. It wasn't a statement of sexuality; her gender was simply incidental to her, another label like black or white, Mod or rocker, DC or Marvel. She didn't care. Have ya heard about Suzi from the Motor City? She was punk before we knew what punk was. She was Suzi Quatro. She's still Suzi Quatro. Go, go, go, little Suzi.
"Tear Me Apart" and "I May Be Too Young" written by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn
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