In the early 1970s, the rock world was dominated by men. Some of them wore androgynous outfits and lipstick, but guitar driven music was largely a male scene. There were exceptions, of course: Suzi Quatro – a musician for whom the idea of gender was less rigid – had hits on both sides of the Atlantic; the Wilson sisters scored great success with Heart; Fanny pioneered the “all female band”, and the rarely mentioned Birtha weren’t far behind.
The arrival of The Runaways in the mid 70s came like a lightning bolt. Here were five teenage girls, ready to make a huge noise and ready to flaunt a bucket’s worth of sexuality. Ostensibly a package deal put together by Kim Fowley, The Runaways weren’t just a girl band; they could really rock, and by straddling a sound somewhere between trashy hard rock and proto-punk, their brand of noise really struck a chord with the era. They were pioneers. Without them, there would be no Donnas, and possibly no Babes In Toyland or L7.
The British blues boom was arguably one of the most important movements in musical history. Not only did it launch the careers of various guitar heroes – players much loved for decades afterwards – but the guitar driven sounds also paved the way for a whole universe of rock music. With that in mind, it’s interesting how few compilations have celebrated the British blues scene. Aside from Grapefruit Records’ excellent ‘Crawling Up A Hill’ box set, any other releases have been label specific, leaving a huge gap in the market for a set to explore some of the more niche sounds from the era.
‘Shake That Thing: The Blues In Britain 1963-1973’ is perfect in that regard. This three CD set from Grapefruit casts a much wider net than their earlier box set, but never loses site of its core objective. Bluesy sounds are out there, front and centre, at all times, but it also looks beyond the usual suspects to celebrate blues laden tunes shared by other singer songwriters, folkies and rock bands during a hugely transitional period.
After Geffen Records scored an unexpected commercial and financial success with Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ album in 1991, other major labels began to scour the Seattle area, convinced that the city and its surrounding towns would result in a similar brand of ‘Teen Spirit’. By 1993, around the time that Seattle Fever had reached its peak, pretty much every band who’d been name checked by Kurt Cobain or other important figures had made the leap from indie cool to bigger things. Even supposed second division acts like Tad found themselves signed to major contracts. Looking back, it could be argued that a lot of these bands didn’t quite have the impact the labels had desired, but these major deals certainly elevated their profiles.
Throughout the late 60s and early 70s, the landscape of rock music shifted. Over the course of five or six years, psychedelia gave way to hard rock, and a heavier approach to both blues and rock gave birth to a sound that would eventually be considered the birth of heavy metal. ‘We’re An American Band’, a 3CD set from Cherry Red’s retro subsidiary Grapefruit Records, charts these musical changes on the US rock scene, bringing together various key tracks and fantastic album cuts. In doing so, it ventures far deeper than your average compilation, despite presenting several very familiar names.
Thin Lizzy were an exceptional rock band. The classic mid 70s line up managed to capture lightning in a bottle with Phil Lynott’s charisma and the trademark twin guitar sounds of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. Even when the band shifted line-ups to include Snowy White and, latterly, John Sykes for a heavier sound, they were still a top tier rock band. True legends.