Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers: “L.A.M.F. Live At The Village Gate 1977” (2015) CD Review

Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers were a punk rock band started in 1975 by New York Dolls members Johnny Thunder and Jerry Nolan, along with Walter Lure and Billy Rath. During the band’s brief career, they released only one studio album, L.A.M.F. (which stands for Like A Mother Fucker), which came out in 1977. L.A.M.F. Live At The Village Gate 1977 contains tracks from two concerts that the band performed in August of 1977, just a couple of months before the studio album’s release, and most of the songs here are ones included on L.A.M.F. (thus the title of the CD).

This CD is full of raw, high-energy punk rock performances in New York before enthusiastic crowds. The sound is certainly not perfect, but it feels appropriate. It seems like a more accurate representation of the concerts, giving you the feel of being the room, particularly if you turn it up, drink quite a bit and move around until you’re dizzy. It would be wrong somehow to have a crystal clear soundboard recording of these shows. Or maybe not.

This live album kicks off with “Chinese Rocks,” a song included on L.A.M.F., but one that was written by Dee Dee Ramone and Richard Hell. The Ramones’ version, titled “Chinese Rock,” would end up on their 1980 release End Of The Century. The song is introduced here as a song “written by a bunch of ego maniacs.” (And interestingly, it’s clear that the song is introduced as “Chinese Rock,” not “Chinese Rocks.”) Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I'm living on a Chinese rock/All my best things are in hock/I'm living on a Chinese rock/Everything is in the pawn shop.” The band then goes right into “Pirate Love,” another tune from L.A.M.F., but one written by Johnny Thunders.

For me, things really get cooking with the third track, “Get Off The Phone,” which has a great punk pace and a ton of energy. I love this tune, especially these days, when I want to shout it to basically everyone I see. “What's that ringing sound?/Everything's going round and round/Calling everybody and their mother too/But don't call me ‘cause I just left you/Get off the phone.” It was written by Walter Lure and Jerry Nolan, and is one of my favorite tracks. Another favorite, “All By Myself,” was also written by Walter Lure and Jerry Nolan, and was also included on L.A.M.F.

“Can’t Keep My Eyes On You” was not on the original studio album, but is a tune that was included on L.A.M.F. Revisited and on L.A.M.F.: The Lost ’77 Mixes. The song’s title must be a play on the 1967 single “Can’t Keep My Eyes Off You” by Frankie Valli. “Can’t Keep My Eyes On You” was written by Walter Lure and Jerry Nolan, and it’s a love song in its own right. “Can't keep my eyes on you/You know you're something new/And I'm in love with you.” It’s followed by “Chatterbox,” another song that was not on the original L.A.M.F. studio album. Actually, this tune was originally a New York Dolls song, written by Johnny Thunders and included on Too Much Too Soon. The version here is reworked, with different lyrics, and is sometimes called “Leave Me Alone” and also “Milk Me.”

“Born Too Loose” is an interesting one, if only for its title. This CD has the track listed as “Born Too Loose,” like the title of a greatest hits compilation of Johnny Thunders’ material. But some versions of the original studio album have the title as “Born To Lose,” and a tribute to Johnny Thunders is titled Born To Lose. Which is correct? Fuck if I know. But I do appreciate the play with words in the title “Born Too Loose.”

Fellow New York Dolls member Sylvain Sylvain joins The Heartbreakers on guitar for a cover of Carl Perkins’ “Boppin The Blues,” and Robert Gordon joins the band on vocals. That's followed by a wild cover of The Contours' “Do You Love Me,” which was written by Berry Gordy (this song was featured in the overrated Dirty Dancing). The CD ends with another tune from L.A.M.F., “I Wanna Be Loved,” written by Johnny Thunders. Actually, there is a brief hidden track at the end, just a bit of stage banter.

CD Track List
  1. Chinese Rocks
  2. Pirate Love
  3. Get Off The Phone
  4. All By Myself
  5. Let Go
  6. Can’t Keep My Eyes On You
  7. Chatterbox
  8. One Track Mind
  9. Take A Chance With Me
  10. Born Too Loose
  11. Boppin The Blues
  12. Do You Love Me
  13. I Wanna Be Loved 
L.A.M.F. Live At The Village Gate 1977 was released on October 16, 2015 on Cleopatra Records.

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