The main irony regarding the legendary New York nightclub, CBGB, is that club owner
Hilly Kristal didn’t plan on creating a rock and roll haven at 315 Bowery on Bleecker Street in Manhattan. Instead, in 1973 he wanted to showcase country, bluegrass, and blues, hence the CBGB acronym. Things didn’t work out that way.
As chronicled in director Randall Miller’s upcoming film, CBGB, Kristal’s venue became not only a mecca for the burgeoning punk-rock scene, but the launching pad for the careers of many raw and rough-edged bands. They included some that came to prominence, many that didn’t. A sampling of such groups are on the accompanying CBGB: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, which is pretty much a jukebox of the music popular at CBGBs, and you don’t have to see the movie to enjoy the time capsule the soundtrack offers.
CBGB: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is coming in October as a CD, a double-LP (with first pressing on translucent pink vinyl), and as a deluxe digital exclusive version featuring an expanded track list from Rhino Records. I can’t speak to the Rhino edition, but I can well imagine how some of the 20 songs on the standard version will fit a film with the tag line, “50,000 Bands and One Disgusting Bathroom.”
Some of the songs are from influential bands that helped pave the way for the punk scene. These include the uncensored “Kick Out the Jams” by The MC5, “Chatterbox” by the New York Dolls, “I Can’t Stand It” by The Velvet Underground, and “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by Iggy and The Stooges. I was puzzled to see the 1966 “Psychotic Reaction” by The Count Five in the mix until the musical supervisor for the film, Brad Rosenberger, told me the song was on the actual CBGB jukebox. Yes, it’s used in one scene in the film.
Some of the choices demonstrate few of the bands, by design, focused on melody or real musicianship. The exceptions begin with the album opener, “Life During Wartime” from the Talking Heads, the seriously out-of-place “Roxanne” from The Police, and a newly-recorded version of “Sunday Girl” by Blondie, one of the most successful alumni of the club. Among the rarities is The Dictators’ cover of “California Sun,” the 1961 hit by The Rivieras. It’s included as the humor-laced Dictators was one of those should-have-beens who played at CBGB. It’s also nice the soundtrack included the original demo of the track in this package.
But the core of the set are songs illustrating what punk was all about—youthful angst and confusion, testosterone-pumped street strutting, and minimal musical virtuosity. These include Television’s “Careful,” Richard Hell & The Voidoids’ “Blank Generation, The Flamin Groovies’ “Slow Death,” Wayne County & The Electric Chairs’ “Out of Control,” The Laughing Dogs’ “Get Outta My Way,” Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers’ “All By Myself,” and Joey Ramone’s “I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up).”
Only one group gets two numbers, The Dead Boys knocking out “Caught With the Meat in Your Mouth” and “Sonic Reducer.” Only one track is live, “All For the Love of Rock ’n’ Roll” from Tuff Darts, so presumably that’s one we’ll see reenacted in the film. The track list ends with the most poignant offering, the old school country of “Birds and the Bees” as performed by the late Hilly Kristal himself. Again, I can only speculate that’s the silly number we might hear over the closing credits, a quick remembrance of the type of music Kristal had in mind when he started it all.
Of course, the selections aren’t really a full cross-section of the bands known for playing at CBGB. There’s no Fleshtones, Misfits, Patti Smith Group, The Cramps, The B-52’s, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, The Shirts, or Mink DeVille. The choices are from the club’s early years, so naturally we hear nothing from the ’80s or thereafter.
That makes sense. But, for punk fans, this collection is hard to beat. For most, many of the songs are old favorites and for others, the names of many groups are at least familiar ones. On the other hand, many of these tracks are from bands not well known then and forgotten now. So this is an ideal assortment to flesh out your punk/new wave libraries with some old friends and new discoveries.
As it happens, the various versions of the soundtrack and the film are coordinated to make their first New York splash in time for the CBGB Music Festival October 9-13, the second year for the new Big Apple tradition. Thereafter, the film of CBGB will be coming to a theatre near you. This time, there won’t be 50,000 bands. However, I suspect the bathrooms will be clean.