Eddie And The Hot Rods – The Island Years (6 Disc Boxed Set) – Album Review
Eddie And The Hot Rods – The Island Years
Released 14th September 2018
Definitive boxset of Eddie The Hot Rods’ sojourn with Chris Blackwell’s Island Records featuring the 3 albums Teenage Depression, Life On The Line and Thriller plus separate discs for BBC sessions, In Concert recordings and a rare Fan Club LP from 1977….LTW’s Ian Canty does anything he wants to do, well he wanted to write this review anyway…
Eddie And The Hot Rods came steaming out of Canvey Island in 1975, buoyed by the back to basics success of local lads Dr Feelgood and sporting tons of pure energy to burn. Manager Ed Hollis (brother of Talk Talk’s Mark) came up with an idea for a band playing urgent, concise Rock & Roll, when bored of the elitism of 70s Rock music. He announced something along the lines of “let’s start an early 60s band”. Though the Hot Rods had been in existence prior to Hollis’ edict (back in 1973 some members played in the band Buckshee), they took his idea and ran with it. So, in contrast to the Feelgoods’ deep Blues obsessions, the Rods drew more from 60s Garage and R&B, rave-ups, with covers of staples like Them’s Gloria and 96 Tears peppering their live set.
The first Rods incarnation featured guitarists Dave Higgs and Pete Wall joined by drummer Steve Nichol and bassist Rob Steele, with young boxing hopeful Barrie Masters upfront as lead singer. Soon Steele and Wall dropped out, with Paul Gray (future member of the Damned and UFO) and harmonica hoodlum Lew Lewis joining to complete the new line up.
The band’s high intensity live show quickly won them an army of fans and the early Autumn of 1975 found them sharing the same bill as Joe Strummer’s 101ers at the famous Nashville boozer. Some notorious ructions with the Sex Pistols at the Marquee Club in February 1976 failed to quell their momentum and they were soon signed up by Island Records in the UK. After a couple of non-charting singles in the excellent Writing On The Wall and a cover of Sam Sham And The Pharaohs’ Wooly Bully (both added to disc 1 as bonus tracks), Lewis left for a solo career and the Rods settled down as a four piece.
Their next release found them in their element, captured live at the Marquee (not on the same night as the Pistols fracas of course) with 96 Tears and Bob Seger’s Get Out Of Denver cueing things up for a show-stopping segue between Gloria and the Stones’ Satisfaction (the whole EP is featured as extras on disc one here). Bearing in mind the very warm Summer of 76, it must have made for a near-boiling point experience to see the Rods going hell for leather on stage. Sniffin’ Glue were among many singing their praises and the band, despite not ever aligning themselves in the Punk scene, were clearly part of a new force in UK music.
They got to 43 in the UK charts with this classic piece of vinyl and cracked the Top 40 with their next single Teenage Depression. The debut album of the same name also charted and on the whole it was a very good statement of what the Hot Rods did. At the time it was suggested that it did not quite capturing the prowess of their stage show (apart from a live battering of the Who’s The Kids Are Alright), but today it sounds fresh, fine and full of power. The title track is a classic 1976 anthem, Chuck Berry/Eddie Cochran for the Blank Generation, the “spending all my money and it’s going up my nose” line exorcised for the single release that hit number 36.
That Who cover and fast and furious readings of Joe Tex’s Show Me and Sam Cooke’s Shake aside, the lion’s share of songs are originals penned by Dave Higgs. Why Can’t It Be is a classy teen anthem, full of references to mortgages etc which threaten to drag our heroes down and Horseplay (Wearier Of The Schmaltz) belies its slightly clumsy title in being a lithe and manic rocker. On The Run, with its Prisoner-influenced outro, brought proceedings to an end on the original album, but here we also get a load of bonus tracks including a powerful race through Hard Drivin’ Man and the single version of Teenager Depression. It all very neatly rounds up the 1976 activities of the Rods.
Next came the Life On The Line LP, which found the band at their very best. The record was full of hard-hitting and catchy songs like the title track, Telephone Girl and the big hit Do Anything You Wanna Do (which heralded a brief name change to just the Rods for some reason). Quit This Town followed it into the charts and was unlucky not to be as big a record for them, people have remarked on its slight resemblance to Going Underground…hmm. The lengthy and atmospheric set closer Beginning Of The End was unfortunately prophetic – this would be the apex of the band’s career and the going would get decidedly rougher as the years went on.
Two 1977 tracks with Rob Tyner on vocals (featured as bonuses) show the man himself in good voice, though the actual songs Flipside Rock and Til The Night Is Gone aren’t that much to write home about. Better is the sleek heavyweight punch of the single version of Ignore Them and the bass-heavy Psychedelic mayhem of Distortion May Be Expected (though unfortunately on my copy this one has a great big glitch almost four minutes in. I have checked with the record company and have been assured that they have recalled this version so all should be ok when it hits the shops – if not contact them for a replacement). It also is interesting to hear the US single cut of Do Anything You Wanna Do, it comes minus the quiet fade in and is a bit less tough sounding. The non-LP single I Might Be Lying is a beaut too.
By the time Thriller album emerged in 1979, things had changed in a big way and the Hot Rods were seen as men of the past, especially by the music press. The fans still came out to see them live, but it was clear that the band had felt the rough side of Rock & Roll, which was borne out by the lyrics on the LP (especially Media Messiahs). People dismissed the band and the record without even listening. Even so I’ve always liked this record and I feel they deserved a fairer crack of the whip with it. This disc seems to be a fairly straight re-issue of the version that came out on Captain Oi! 15 years or so ago with only two bonus tracks, the near-HM instrumental Horror Through Straightness and typically breezy piece of Rods R&B in Highlands One Hopefuls Two.
But the album itself is stuffed with great, bitter songs like Media Messiahs, Out To Lunch and Power And The Glory. Also of note are speedy Circles and the barnstorming He Does It With Mirrors, in fact there is barely a weak track on the whole record. Things had changed though and the Hot Rods were no longer just speed-enhanced kids looking to put some life back into a sleepy live scene, but sadly few could make sense of this metamorphosis and after a brief dalliance with the charts Thriller disappeared without trace.
After Thriller dropped out of the charts the band were soon dropped by Island, but were thrown a lifeline by EMI, who issued the disappointing Fish And Chips album in 1981. There was no route back to the charts for the band, but reformations and many different line ups have kept the flame lit over the years. Barrie Masters is still at the helm today, bring admirable energy to their live act as they canter towards the end of 2018 when the curtain will come down on Eddie And The Hot Rods’s final tour. A celebration of the band is planned, taking place at the Islington Academy on 13th April 2019, where members of the band’s many line ups will perform.
Coming to the material features on the other three discs we firstly have the BBC (Peel) Sessions. To start with we have four songs from March 1977 (not 1979 as it is marked on both the outer box and inner sleeve), with a studio take of Keep On Keeping On being the main interest as the song never turned up on anything officially issued by the band. On The Run is the best track here, probably better than on the debut LP. Moving to the next session taped in October 1977 we get four tracks from the Life On The Line album, they’re good but not that different from the LP versions. Better are the quintet from March 1979, early run throughs of Breathless (showing a little more of its roots in the Midnight Hour) and a fast Rock & Roller in Living Dangerously which brings down the curtain on this disc in some style.
Disc 5 has two In Concert recordings for BBC Radio 1, the first from March 1977 when their star was still in ascendency and the second coming from 14 months later, at this point the band were slowly breaking in material for their next album Thriller. The first is somewhat hampered from a odd bass sound (nothing to do with the estimable Paul Gray I’m sure, more likely the BBC engineers), but offers a good selection of the band honing their craft slightly away from their R&B roots to a powerful, more modern sound. The crowd noise seems to have been cropped a bit, but that is probably how it was broadcast at the time. For me the second set is more interesting, a mighty early version of Take It Or Leave It a year before it was released on the Thriller LP is particularly fine.
To be honest I didn’t expect much from disc 6 here, a re-issue of a 1977 “fans only” LP of live and studio material from 1976 onwards. Sometimes you build up your hopes for something like this and it’s all run of the mill stuff and fairly obvious why it was not officially released at the time. I was pleasantly surprised here, because the live material (taken from gigs in October 1976 in Paris and February 1977 at the Rainbow Finsbury Park) knocks spots off the BBC In Concert offerings of the last disc (not that there was much wrong with them), being very rough and ready but far more vital. The Hot Rods sound on fire here! The perfect document of what was very much a live band, totally in their element.
The studio recordings are no slouches either. All I Need Is Money has a touch of Garage fuzz guitar and Been So Long is wilder than on the debut album. The studio Gloria may lack the mania of the live rendition, but it’s still a goodie. We also get a suitably crazed radio advert for I Might Be Lying!
There are couple of minor proof reading/printing mistakes on the packaging (both the In Concert and Fan Club discs are given the number 5 on the outer box in addition to the BBC Sessions cock up). Otherwise there is everything that a Rods fan could want, though a touch more care wouldn’t have gone amiss. The curse of the Rods strikes again? Putting this to one side the music is consistently excellent, showing what a great band they were during the three years documented. This period of the Rods’ history is hugely deserving of this boxset, they followed their own path and never took the easy option.
The first three albums each have their highpoints, though Life On The Line will always be seen as the “classic”, the other two are very good records indeed. All of the extras are neat enough too, with the Fan Club LP being unexpectedly excellent. It’s bewildering that they haven’t been heralded for the very big role they played as the era turned from Pub Rock to Punk – their bust up with the Pistols is the only explanation I can see for the fact Eddie And The Hot Rods are so under-appreciated. This boxset, despite a few minors faults, lends all the weight to the argument you need. Julien Temple, here’s your next music documentary!
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here