“Switchboard Susan won’t you give me a line…”
Rockpile were such a breath of fresh air when they appeared in 1980, it is hard to describe. The initial blast of punk had been co-opted into the more commercially appealing New Wave, and dinosaur stadium bands still ruled the world. Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner, and Terry Williams – collectively known as Rockpile, made rock ‘n’ roll fun again.
Although there would only be one “official” Rockpile album, titled Seconds Of Pleasure and released in 1980, there were actually four recorded by the group. The remaining three were released as solo Dave Edmunds (Trax On Wax 4 and Repeat When Necessary), and Nick Lowe (Labour Of Lust) efforts. This confusing situation was necessitated by the individual’s conflicting record label commitments, which made tracking down the elusive “Rockpile” beast somewhat tricky.
When the call came from the Montreux Jazz Festival (unlikely as it may seem), the band had plenty of material to pick from. Thanks to the folks at Eagle Rock Entertainment, that show is now available as a new 16-track CD titled, Rockpile: Live At Montreux 1980.
The choice of Rockpile to play this prestigious jazz festival was a little daring, but the guys clearly relished the opportunity to play together. From the opening notes of “Sweet Little Lisa,” it’s on. The band’s signature sound was a mix of rockabilly, power pop, and good old rock ‘n’ roll, which they combine to perfection on this track. “Sweet Little Lisa” is one of four cuts from the 1979 Edmunds-credited Repeat When Necessary. The other three are stellar as well, including “Girls Talk” (written by Elvis Costello), the barn-burning “Crawling From The Wreckage” (written by Graham Parker), and “Queen Of Hearts” (which would prove to be a huge hit for Juice Newton later on).
Nick Lowe’s Labour Of Lust was recorded at the same time as Repeat When Necessary, and also released in 1979. Just imagine if these two records had been combined and released as a double Rockpile set. It could have been huge, as they say. But record company politics did not allow for this, and I suppose it is pointless to pose such a “What if” question. In any case, Labour Of Lust is certainly as good, if not a better record than Repeat. Strangely enough though, the lone representative from Labour is “Switchboard Susan.”
Dave Edmunds was the first out of the box with a hit sing with “I Hear You Knockin’,” from way back in 1970. Rockpile nail it with ease here, and the crowd is obviously thrilled. Finally the guys land on a classic Sun-era Jerry Lee Lewis number, “Let’s Talk About Us,” as this smoking show comes to a close. As Malcolm Dome writes in his liner notes, “It all passes in such a blur. Surely we can’t have heard the set in its entirety?” Yet that was Rockpile.
As Lowe sings during his great “So It Goes,” “So it goes, so it goes, so it goes, so it goes, where it winds up, no one knows.” Personal and musical differences blew them apart shortly after this concert. None of that was evident onstage at Montreux however. The quality of the music they blasted out that night 31 years ago still sounds remarkably fresh. In fact, it sounds timeless. It would prove to be a short-lived situation, but when it worked, nobody could touch Rockpile. The proof is right here on Live At Montreux, which captures the band at the peak of their powers.