Graded on a Curve: Siverhead,
16 and Savaged

Like many another hungry band desperate to make a name for itself in the early seventies, England’s Silverhead jumped aboard the Glam bandwagon with both platform-booted feet, but if you’re expecting fey androgyny and campy signifiers of the Glam demimonde, forget about it–Silverhead was a hard rock outfit that owed its sound to the likes of Humble Pie, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and the Faces, and there isn’t enough glitter in the whole wide world to disguise the fact.

Silverhead didn’t exactly set the world on fire and only stuck around long enough to release two studio LPs, and nowadays hardly anybody remembers ‘em (sob!), but here’s the thing; they were a pretty damn good raunch’n’roll band, and the evidence to prove it is on their sophomore album, 1973’s 16 and Savaged.

The more I listen to 16 and Savaged the more I realize the whole glam thing is a gloss and overlay, if not an outright red herring; aside from the triumphant “Hello New York,” which is very New York Dolls in spirit, singer/actor (he went on to play a punk rocker in a 1978 episode of WKRP in Cincinati!) Michael Des Barres and the boys can only be termed a glitter rock band in the sense that they looked like a glitter band.

What they sound like to me is a band trapped between rock epochs; the tres catchy ”More Than Your Mouth Can Hold” may anticipate the rude punk attitude of the Dead Boy’s “Caught With the Meat in Your Mouth,” and (looking even further into the old crystal ball) the hair metal sleaze of Poison’s Open Up and Say… Ahh!, but it’s a streamlined boogie number at heart–ain’t nothing glam OR punk about Des Barre’s Rod Stewart meets Steve Marriott rasp.

Most of these tunes bring classic rock bands to mind. The oh so tender but just okay “Only You” could be a Nazareth ballad had good old Steve Marriott moonlighted as their lead vocalist. “Bright Light” is sped-up Zepboogie and steals its guitar thunder from Uriah Heep’s “Easy Livin.” On the down and dirty “Cartoon Princess” Des Barres sounds like he’s gargling Wild Turkey and coffee grounds while twin guitar menaces Robbie Blunt and Rod Davies rip it up and tear it up then flush the pieces down the crapper, and I’ll be damned if I don’t hear Mott the Fucking Hoople doing the Honaloochie Boogie.

The most excellent title track also anticipates in attitude the hair metal that would one day aerosolize the world; with its smeared lipstick verses and ecstatically melodic choruses this homage to the lost little girls known to frequent Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco on the Sunset Strip infuses muscle rock swagger with a pinch of the glam divine.

Not everything that glitters on 16 and Savaged is gold. “Rock Out Claudette Rock Out” is more old school boogie swagger and falters only because, well, it should rock out FASTER. “Heavy Hammer” reeks of Jimmy Page and the boys (the hammer Des Barres’ is singing about is obviously borrowed from the gods) and ain’t half bad, but it’s a bit Led-footed for my tastes. As for the lumbering “This Ain’t a Parody,” well, suffice it to say it wouldn’t sound outta place on Humble Pie’s Eat It!, and (I hate to be mean but) is in dire need of a boogie infusion.

Small wonder Silverhead influenced the hair metal bands that would one day take over the Sunset Strip–they got sleaze, they got raunch, they got attitude in spades. And they make a big noise. They were supposed to be the next big thing but they weren’t, and I suspect that’s because they hung on too much to the old and didn’t have the vision to aim towards the new.

Had they tossed the entire British blooze rock tradition into the ash heap of history and just copped up to being a bunch of sleazy three-chord degenerates they might have become England’s answer to the New York Dolls, in which case Morrissey would have gone on to become THEIR fan club president and every fucking hipster in the known world would praise them as diamond-in-the-rough geniuses and the true godfathers of punk.

Instead they stuck to their borrowed Zep licks and are a footnote at best. That’ll teach ‘em for knowing how to play their instruments. And to add insult to injury, Des Barres went on to join the equally ephemeral Detective and play Live Aid as Robert Palmer’s replacement in Power Station, and if Power Station isn’t a black mark on a person’s permanent record what is?

Still, 16 and Savage is a lurid thrill, from its bodice ripper of a cover to its lost classic of a title cut, and you’ll be doing yourself a favor by checking it out.

Hello New York!

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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