Graded on a Curve: Jayne/Wayne County and the Electric Chairs, The Best of Jayne/Wayne County and the Electric Chairs

When it comes to the first wave of punk, Wayne (and later Jayne) County and the Electric Chairs are often sadly overlooked. And this despite such raunch’n’roll classics as “Toilet Love,” “Fuck Off,” and “Cream in My Jeans.” County, a Georgia transgender woman, combined glam punk with the sheer camp outrage of New York City’s Theater of the Ridiculous, and the results were both hilarious and irresistible. Yet none of the band’s albums were released in the United States, an inexplicable omission unless one concludes that U.S. record execs found County and the Electric Chairs’ songs simply too sleazy to touch.

County and the Electric Chairs were the biggest proponents of the trash rock aesthetic this side of the New York Dolls, but they took things much, much farther than the Dolls ever did. County might come on stage wearing a plastic vagina with straw pubic hair, and punk photographer Roberta Bayley recalls the time County, having decided (amongst many others, including Bayley) that Patti Smith’s “I’m the Second Coming of Arthur Rimbaud” shtick was so much pretentious horseshit, “did a big parody of her where he came on and he had a black wig and a white shirt, a tie and he did this whole thing about following one of Jim Morrison’s pubic hairs down the sewers of Paris.” If Jayne had never done anything but that, I’d still love her.

Subtle County wasn’t, but the Electric Chairs also released such bona fide trash-free classics as the celebratory “Max’s Kansas City,” the transgender anthem “Man Enough to Be a Woman,” and the most delirious song about wanting to have a number one hit since the Raspberries’ “Overnight Sensation” in “Trying to Get on the Radio.” And the best way to listen to the multi-faceted County is to pick up a copy of 1982’s Best of Jayne/Wayne County and the Electric Chairs, which includes all of the above songs as well as such searing rockers as “Bad in Bed,” “Hot Blood,” and “Night Time,” to say nothing of the lovely “Eddie & Sheena” and the Transformer-flavored “Midnight Pal.”

“Toilet Love” is definitely a step too far, and all the more brilliant for the fact. To the accompaniment of some great guitar Jayne tosses off such odoriferous gems as, “I love it when you smell my dirty sock/Toilet love/And when you pick your nose and blow it on my jock.” To say nothing of, “Your underarms are more than I can bear/Ewww, toilet love/And you never ever change your underwear.” As for “Fuck Off,” it’s an old school rocker with ringing guitar and County announcing, “If you don’t want to fuck me/Fuck off.” The LP also includes a live take of perhaps County’s best-known tune “Cream in My Jeans,” and it’s a rip-roaring number that segues into the very cool “Stuck on You.”

“Man Enough to Be a Woman” is downright wonderful; the guitarist plays a thrilling riff, the momentum (thanks in part to Mott the Hoople member Morgan Fisher’s organ) builds, and County, finally playing it straight, sings, “I’ve got a transsexual feeling,” then “I am what I am/And I don’t give a damn.” And she wants to know if you’re man enough to be a woman… well, are you? On “Trying to Get on the Radio” County announces her eagerness to sell-out to get some airplay; “No being rude or outrageous/To make you think that we’re contagious/No more dirty words or political statements/No more recording in our basement.” Darryl Way’s violin and Fisher’s organ and piano lend the song a fetching Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” feel, and I love this song to death.

“Max’s Kansas City” is another slice of proto-punk dedicated to the most famous rock club this side of CBGBs. County name-drops everybody in attendance: Lou Reed, Patti Smith, The New York Dolls, Iggy Pop, Blondie, Dee Dee Ramone, and I could go on. “All the kids are down at Max’s,” she concludes, riding a wave of sheer guitar-propelled propulsion. And this is more than just a song; it’s a celebration of being young and hanging out at the hippest spot on planet Earth.

“Eddie & Sheena” has a fifties feel to it, and it’s a sweet tune that proves beyond a doubt that County was interested in more than just giving the middle-finger to the queasy normals. The guitar playing and drumming are wonderful, and I think I hear castanets, and the forbidden love between Eddie the Teddy boy and Sheena the punk will leave you wiping tears of happiness from your eyes. And the frenetic punk ending is to die for. As for “Midnight Pal,” it features a big resonant guitar riff and proceeds at a Lou Reed-like shuffle, with Jayne doing a spot-on impersonation of the Lou the Louse. “Hot Blood,” which features Jools Holland on piano, is a rocking Stones’ take on a boyfriend with absolutely no class, which is just the way Jayne likes it. Why, the guy even drinks stale beer from a peanut butter glass. Heck, I kinda think I love the guy too.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. I don’t hear a single tune on this 14-song compilation I don’t like with the possible exception of “Berlin,” which opens on an atmospheric note, includes some nonsense lyrics about a little girl named Pinocchio, and only redeems itself as it approaches the 4-minute mark and the guitars take over, while County and others repeat, “Berlin/Berlin/Berlin.” I even like the band’s take on The Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night,” although it strikes me as an odd tune for County and the Electric Chairs to cover.

Jayne County and the Electric Chairs ultimately parted ways, and Jayne continued to record her outré songs to a select audience that both admired Jayne’s courage and got the joke. And she was courageous; if I recall correctly she once whacked “Handsome Dick” Manitoba of the Dictators with the heavy end of the mike stand at CBGBs because he was heckling her in an allegedly homophobic manner. Broke his collarbone and put him in the hospital she did. Yes, I admire Jayne County, and love her songs, and think she has never gotten her propers. Which you can help remedy by going out and buying this album. Like pronto, darling, dig?

GRADED ON A CURVE:
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