Graded on a Curve:
Flamin’ Groovies,
Teenage Head

I’m proud to call myself a blues impurist, by which I mean I’d sooner listen to a bunch of know-nothing punks fold, spindle and mutilate the masterworks of such hallowed figures as Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, and John Lee Hooker than hunker down and listen to the originals, which I suppose makes me a bad person but hey–my mom probably told you that already.

And when it comes to raunching up the blooze garage rock style, you’ll have a hard time beating the early Flamin’ Groovies, who before they went all retro-British Invasion power pop in great songs like “Shake Some Action” (best Iggy and the Stooges song title ever!) turned out a couple of LPs of such inauthentic authenticity you can actually smell the motor oil pooling on the garage floor.

My fave is 1971’s Teenage Head, and you can tell how great it is just by looking at the cover–the Groovies were San Fran boys but you can forget about all of that peace and love bullshit; they look like they’re ready to play your party and steal your beer and talk your girlfriend into going home with ‘em even though home is reform school! Although for all I know they were real sweethearts and if their song “Kicks” is any indication were more likely to give your girlfriend a lecture on the perils of drug abuse than to hand her a Mandrax.

Anyway, on Teenage Head they play some blues numbers featuring mucho slide guitar one of which (“32-20”) was written by Robert Johnson and chug-a-lugs along just fine, toss in a real live be-bop-a-lula rockabilly number called “Evil-Hearted Ada” on which the singer does his best bouncing baby Elvis impersonation, kick out the jams big time on a raving cover of Randy Newman’s “Have You Seen My Baby?”, and toss off another drop-kick rockabilly cop with the hilarious title of “Doctor Boogie” on which the singer says you you gotta mow the lawn, baby, if you wanna be with me. Which might be a sexual metaphor but also might be, you know, just part of the job description. The lawnmower’s out back!

And the fun–because if there’s one thing this baby is, it’s fun–continues on “High Flyin’ Baby,” on which the boys basically do the Stones one better by pushing a big guitar riff in your face and moaning the blues like a lightweight Captain Beefheart, and if you don’t believe me take Mick Jagger’s word for it–legend has it listened to Teenage Head and conceded as much! And talk about the Stones–the great ”Yesterday’s Numbers” comes on like “Stray Cat Blues” before turning into the blueprint for every song Spoon will ever write!

“City Lights” also sounds like the Stones circa the turn of the decade, while “Whiskey Woman” is a really great power ballad (though the words “power ballad” hadn’t been invented yet!) and guaranteed to make you swoon. Believe me, if the soulful chorus doesn’t hit you right in that tender spot called the human heart, you ain’t no human being! And the boys let rip Stooges style at the end!

Which leaves us with the immortal title cut, which lyrically splits the difference between “I’m Eighteen” and “Search and Destroy” (sample lines: “I’m a child of atom bombs/And rotten air and Vietnams”) and opens like (believe it or not) Heart’s “Barracuda” before turning into one badass shake’n’bake complete with lip snarl vocalizations and ugly fuzz chords, to say nothing of the orneriest harmonica honk you ever will hear. And talk about your teen unity in the face of a screwed-up world–I’m you and you’re me is how the song ends, and it looks like we’re all totally fucked!

Teenage Head is a meaty burp in the face and in my humble opinion the nastiest and most scuzzed-up appropriation of a black music form this side of the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street. And it came out a year earlier!

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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