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Various Artists – New York Rocks: Original Punk Classics of the 70’s

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Creating the definitive collection of anything is an impossible task; creating an album that’s supposed to be the definitive representation of the New York punk scene is almost setting yourself up for the firing squad. There have been plenty of previous attempts, to be sure (hell, even Marty Thau’s 2×5 was supposed to be a ‘definitive’ compilation of the New York scene at the time, and, in hindsight, actually was). The worst offender in the series has to be the dreadful “Live From CBGB’s” album, the first release on Hilly Krystal’s CBGB Records – which contained none of the bands that anyone was actually going to see, or created a buzz.

So it is with great amazement that I inform you that New York Rocks: Original Punk Classics of the 70’s (released on Koch Records, even if the title sounds like a K-Tel release) is, actually, pretty damn representative. If you sat me down and said, “Quick, who should be on the definitive NYC punk compilation?” I would likely rattle off as follows: “Ramones, Patti Smith, Television, Dictators, Heartbreakers, Blondie, Richard Hell,” and – I’ll be damned! All of the above appear on the record.

The inclusion of the Velvet Underground is only fitting; even if they predated the scene by a good 8-10 years, without Lou Reed, many of the people in the aforementioned bands would never have gotten any further than lip syncing in front of the mirrors in their bedrooms. (However, if they were going to include the Velvets, it makes the absence of the New York Dolls that much more glaring. Probably due to legal issues, but it does seem like a large gaping chasm, especially given that Johnny Thunders is represented twice, both with the Heartbreakers and solo.) There was no attempt to classify the compilation as being CBGB-oriented vs. Max’s-oriented (the Velvets never played CB’s, after all), so they don’t have that excuse.

Suicide has become one of those bands that everyone now claims that they loved or were a definitive influence, and I couldn’t argue with the presence of Wayne County. While most people tend to write him off, or sideline him as a novelty act, it’s not so much the artist that’s important here rather than the song: his/her anthem to the scene, “Max’s Kansas City”. It’s not the greatest song ever, it’s basically a campy, rhyming recitation of names of bands, over a riff borrowed from Lou Reed’s hand-me-downs. Considering that the only place that song exists is on an out of print vinyl LP I have in storage, it’s almost worth owning this collection just to have that song on CD – even as dated and corny as the song might seem now, when I was a kid in Connecticut, and reading copies of Rock Scene was the closest I could get to hanging out at Max’s, this song was magic. The Dead Boys also belong on here, no question, even if they did come from Cleveland, they definitely made their mark downtown.

So now we come to the “why are they on here” contenders, Mink DeVille and the Mumps. The press release tries to sell their presence as deliberate: “The New York scene was always about a lot more than just the Ramones and the Velvets [well, doh, since the Velvets, again, as previously mentioned, predated said scene by almost a decade], and this collection demonstrates that with its mixture of classics and hard-to-find gems by the Dictators and the Mumps…” Okay, maybe it’s just personal frame of reference, but I’d hardly toss the Dictators in the “hard-to-find” category. And, out of all the bands listed, only the Dictators were on the stage at Little Steven’s Underground Garage festival last summer, so I’m not quite seeing how they landed in the “obscure” bin. However, having said that, even though Willy DeVille never quite lived up to the hype and the promise, “Let Me Dream If I Want To” was (is, still, even) a damn good song that I would have forgotten about if it wasn’t for this compilation.

So we’ve established that, in this case, at least the label got the bands right (2 out of 14, we’ll give them a pass). The real test is the songs. Even on Rhino’s great city/scene-themed punk compilations, they’d have the right bands, but the bands in question wouldn’t license them anything worth listening to. So while (for example) the Boston collection in that series is great, the New York and LA compilations left a lot to be desired. However, in this case, Koch knocked it out of the park. The tracklisting is impeccable. I might have chosen a different Patti Smith song, but then again I’m a freak. Everything else is a home run: “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “See No Evil,” “Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory,” “Sonic Reducer,” “Blank Generation” – it’s all here.

So if you don’t have these songs, if you’re too young to remember, if you don’t know where to start, or if you’re old enough that you have all of this on vinyl already and never wanted to try to gather the essential songs in a digital format, this collection is damn solid for a single CD release, and lives up to its billing. After all, it’s not claiming to be definitive, just “celebrating the golden years” (Christ, I feel OLD now) “of the New York punk scene,” and that it succeeds at, in spades.

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About Caryn Rose

  • Marty Thau

    It’s about time someone noticed. We were all put through a lot of shit back in those days from record company creeps with overblown opinions of themselves. Most of them are gone now but this music isn’t.

  • Eric Olsen

    super job again Caryn, and I agree it’s a pretty great collection. My opinion of early Mink DeVille is much higher than yours though that is not a song I would have picked, maybe “Spanish Stroll” or “She’s So Tough.”

    I agree that overall the CBGB’s album is pretty bad, mostly second and third-raters, but I have a real soft spot for it too: it introduced me to said Mink DeVille, the Shirts, and Robert Gordon (via Tuff Darts).

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    If you’ve got the dough, eight of this set’s 14 songs (and lots more) can be found on Rhino’s superlative four-disc No Thanks: The 70s Punk Rebellion, a box set I have played so often since Santa dropped it off in Christmas `03 that it’s now hard to imagine daily life without it. The same is almost, but not quite, as true of Santa’s `04 CARE package: Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the ’80s Underground.

  • Marty Thau

    I agree with Rodney — that the Rhino collection is the definitive one. Major difference is that the Rhino one costs $65 vs. something like $15, or so, for the Koch release. The Rhino one is well worth it, though. Covers everyone here and abroad — but doesn’t include Sex Pistols. Pardon my plug but my very own 2 X 5 will be reissued on Sanctuary in May for the first time on CD. Mine is more garage oriented. I think each and every one of you should buy it! I need a new porsche.

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks Marty, I look forwrd to it!

  • Caryn Rose

    You can’t compare a single disc anthology with a multiple-disc one, c’mon, gimme a break. :)

    The Tuff Darts comment now reminds me of the one song that I consider essential that isn’t on here: “All For The Love Of Rock and Roll”. So, touche, Eric, and thanks. (But I could never forgive that compilation for Just Water!)

    I am THRILLED that 2×5 is being reissued. I had it on tape, and said tape has long since ceased to be listenable. At one point, that was one of the coolest things I owned. And the reissue is yet another sign that Sanctuary has its shit together.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Caryn,

    You said the Velvets never played at CBGB’s, and I think you’re right. But I was thumbing through Sting’s new bio over the weekend and he said they had. I think he was confused. I always thought CBGB’s started well after the Velvets had folded.

  • Caryn Rose

    All due respect (I guess) to Sting, but he’s wrong. :)

  • Marty Thau

    Velvets never played CBGB’s but John Cale did many times.

  • Marty Thau

    Caryn — email me. I have something to tell you. Thanks.
    MT

  • Marty Thau

    Rodney — you might have mistakenly interpreted Sting’s bio. The Police DID play CB’s — maybe that’s what he said.

  • HW Saxton

    “Why Are They On Here”? Hmmm,well as for
    “The Mumps”,I don’t know.But they sound
    pretty good at a retrospective listen.
    “Crocodile Tears” is a killer power pop
    tune.Bandleader Lance Loud was a “R N R”
    transplant from Calif. and did not have
    much to do with the early NYC Punk scene
    at all.

    As for Mink DeVille, they deserve their
    place in the pantheon.Their sound was &
    still is unique and they dont sound like
    anyone else.Their first two albums still
    hold up quite nicely not sounding dated
    or self consciously “Hip” like some of
    their peers on the Koch disc.Back before
    “Punk Rock” became just another boring
    and formulaic genre taking up bin space
    in your local retail/chain store,it used
    to celebrate diversity and take pride in
    sounding original and being creative.One
    listen to Mink DeVille and you can hear
    the influences of The Velvets,Stones,50s
    R&B,Reggae,Brill Building Pop and more.
    The same influences permeating the work
    of Blondie,The Void-Oids,Dolls,Ramones &
    all the rest of the best NYC bands,just
    filtered differently that’s all.

    An early NYC punk band that never shows
    up on any Punk type comps on the N.Y.C.
    scene is “The Testors” featuring Sonny
    Vincent on guitar.They totally kick ass
    & Sonny is seriously underrated .He’s up
    there with Thunders,R.Quine,Jody Harris
    from The Raybeats and other NYC classic
    punk rock players. Marty Thau probably
    knows him. I saw him play once with Moe
    Tucker about 6 or 7 years back & he was
    in-f’ing-credible.Seriously.

  • Vern Halen

    Sounds like a good’un – I’d buy it, but I think I have every band/song you mentioned on vinyl or CD.

  • http://wp.blogcritics.org Liz Ireland

    I agree it was stretching the point a bit to have the Mumps on there – I think of them more as a Max’s band than a CB’s band. But nowadays, the Mumps are *perceived* (by the younger folks) as having been a CB’s band even though they kind of only were one much later. There’s also the distinct possibility that the Koch folks are trying to make this comp. of interest to the American Power Pop revival contingent. Those kids now view the Mumps as being one of THE most influential bands of the time!

    As to Mink DeVille, I’d have to vote with Eric Olsen – they absolutely do deserve to be here, and deserve much more credit than they ever got, but “Spanish Stroll” or “So Tough” would have been better choices.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Marty — I’m referring to a passage where he stated the Velvets played at CBGB. I don’t doubt the Police did.

  • http://blogcritics.org Liz Ireland

    The bottom line – Marty is correct, and Sting is an idiot and has a bad editor! :-) The Velvets played Max’s but they never played CB’s.

  • Caryn Rose

    I’m sorry, but with all due respect to Sting, he’s not someone I’d consider a reliable information source as to New York City punk rock history, let alone CB’s punk rock history. Musicians can’t tell you where *they* are playing the next night, and are notoriously wrong in remembering their own history in terms of where they’ve played – I’d never ask a musician or rely on their memory, with very very few exceptions. This is not one of them.

    The Velvets were long over before CB’s started having rock bands on a regular basis, starting with (if I remember correctly) Television. It’s a simple matter of history.

    Go consult any book on the Velvet Underground – there are several – but stop beating the horse into the ground because the Almighty Sting said something. HE’S WRONG.

  • http://www.thestudentteachers.com/ Oliver C

    It’s great that the amazing 2×5 album is being released on CD.
    I think it is the best compilation of New York bands from that era.

    Hopefully The Student Teachers (one of the 2×5 bands) will also have a CD of their own soon!
    Check out the new website: http://www.thestudentteachers.com/

  • Otto

    Marty, very happy that 2×5 is being re-issued. I played the crap out of that and went on to follow a couple of the bands with the Fleshtones being one of my faves.
    I look forward to getting it.

    Any other comps up your sleeve?

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  • nycityomnivore

    I think Tuff Darts should have been represented here (if you’re going to leave off the Dolls, but list Thunders twice, at least include Peter Jordan, too!)

    Also, to nitpick, both Nico and Cale played CBGB’s, and there are live releases by both from said venue.

    re: Deville – “Change It Comes” would have been an equally suitable track selection, but I do like how “Let Me Dream….” was preceded by “X-Offender” and followed by “Born to Lose” in the track order: thematic bookends with a meaty, beaty, big and bouncy mid-textual bridge.

    Overall, the track order is very well done, even if redundant (see: Heartbreakers, Voidoids, Thunders) but such redundancy is also to fleshout and illustrate that this was no less of a million dollar sound, even if from the New Yorky City Underground.

    To borrow from Paul Westerberg, How young are you(Caryn), that you never made it to Max’s? Did you ever make it to Mudd?

    Anyway… I remember when Peter Jordan would work, now and again, at Bleecker Bob’s. Ditto, Lenny Kaye.

    And, to reiterate, Tuff Darts should have been on this otherwise fine compilation.