Hanoi Rocks – Bangkok Shocks Saigon Shakes Hanoi Rocks, Oriental Beat, All Those Wasted Years (Dissonance)
Reissues of the first two albums by Finnish Glam Punkers Hanoi Rocks and also their classic live set All Those Wasted Years. Ian Canty pulls out the old feather boa and looks at some Scandinavian Rock ‘n’ Roll sleaze.
Whichever way you look at it, even if you were not a fan, when they arrived on the scene in the early ’80s Hanoi Rocks were something different. Though the new romantic era did at first glance look a little like the second coming of glam (though sadly lacking the kind of genius supplied by Bowie, Bolan, Hunter etc the first time round), Hanoi Rocks suddenly appeared from Finland as a throwback from 1973, albeit with a bit of their own style which melded accoutrements from fashions of the past ten years. Much like their music in fact.
Forming in Helsinki at the end of the ’70s, Hanoi Rocks went through several players before arriving at their “classic” line-up of singer Mike Monroe, guitarists Andy McCoy and Nasty Suicide, drummer Gyp Casino and finally bass player Sami Yaffa (as we can see they mostly both anglicised and glam-punked their names). A move to the Swedish capital of Stockholm set them off blazing a trail all over Scandinavia via a gruelling tour schedule and a hard living Rock ‘n’ Roll image. They quickly made a name for themselves in their adopted homeland and as their first LP hit the racks they were beginning to make ripples elsewhere in Europe too.
Though more than a little brittle sounding at times, “Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks” (and try saying that ten times quickly) is a fairly decent debut LP and has some enjoyable moments. It does struggle to harness the band’s live power through the somewhat iffy production, with a studio hand Seppo Johansson putting his oar in as well as McCoy and Monroe under the pseudonym The Muddy Twins (which was their homage to the Stones The Glimmer Twins, not the only one in the Rocks’ oeuvre either). Their combined efforts unfortunately yielded slightly tinny results. McCoy apparently still disapproves of the sound achieved by Johansson (and yes I have noticed the irony of someone called Johansson (sic) putting the skids under Hanoi Rocks career!) whilst Monroe hated his vocals at this point in time. Though the lyrics were not in the band’s mother tongue, they too could bear some criticism and this would remain a problematic area for the band throughout their existence.
Setting aside all these sonic issues, this album does show a band developing a Pop sensibility, confident enough in their ability to be able to dabble in Glam Rock, Punk and straightforward Pop Rock. This did help to set them apart from virtually any other outfit of the time. Paraphrasing the words of the old Kraut song they had “to look backwards to go onwards”. The Dolls were the obvious template for Hanoi Rocks to begin with but they were not really impersonators, they looked to adapt the NYD’s sleazy rock sound for a new decade of debauchery and in turn bringing some Punk noise into the Hard Rock arena. The blurred cover photo of the band in live action perfectly purveys the image the band were striving for of reckless Rockin’ mayhem which this record, partly at least, fails to deliver.
Lost In The City, with its Bluesy harmonica opening, most closely follows the NYDs, but the tune itself is a convincing dynamic rocker. They crib a little from the Clash on the anthemic 11th Street Kids and breakthrough single Tragedy uses some unusual high backing vocals to good effect. Hanoi even come across like a Punk version of the Searchers on Don’t Ever Leave Me! Overall Bangkok Shocks…. just about manages to overcome its audio limitations to reveal a varied and fleetingly exciting concoction.
Hanoi Rocks were nothing if not hyperactive and after a 102 date tour(!) the band set about recording the follow up “Oriental Beat” in London (this LP would get a much wider release than the debut). During this time they had played with the UK Subs and had thus endeared themselves to the UK Punk scene of the time even though they were completely out of kilter with those sort of bands. Unfortunately another timid production means that while again there is good stuff on this record, there is also a hollow drum sound and a general lack of guts to the guitars.
Some good tunes win through despite the muffled sound: Motorvatin’ is pretty beaty despite the “damp squib” drums, a very catchy riff indeed (though they may have purloined a little of the Equals Baby Come Back in it, btw when the hell are the Equals going to get some proper reissues?). Sweet Home Suburbia has a nice Bo Diddley rhythm to it which is a little fudged by the production but is good nonetheless and Teenangels Outsiders throws the Dolls and the E Street Band together with a little Clarence Clemons sax.
On the other hand on No Law And Order Hanoi rather unwisely try their hand at Clash-style Reggae, it really doesn’t come off but you have to admire that sort of audacity. The album ends on a curiously melancholic note (for such a “party” band anyway) with the piano ballad Fallen Star, Monroe doesn’t quite have the voice for this sort of thing but it is a good try. Oriental Beat does represent a small step forward from the debut record, the band seem more confident but are sadly still stymied by duff sound.
Finally, after their rather erratic drummer Casino had been replaced by Razzle (ex-sticksman for Punk bands Demon Preacher and the Dark), Hanoi Rocks arrived at the perfect formula to display their talents: the live album. It was obvious really, on stage their shortcomings were less obvious (hmm some of those lyrics) and their hard-rocking strong points exemplified. Recorded in 1983 at the old Marquee in Wardour Street, All Those Wasted Years does re-tread a fair amount of material from those first two LPs (in between Oriental Beat and this one they had recorded the Back To Mystery City album whose tracks are liberally spread across this live selection too), but almost without fail they sound much better in the live arena than their studio counterparts, sporting far more power and purpose.
Hanoi Rocks were clearly in their element on stage and this album proved it beyond doubt. Straight from the start with the Chantays’ Surf classic Pipeline (not a coincidence that Johnny Thunders sometimes commenced his live set with this too), they pile their way with glee through 18 tracks on that sweat-streaked Marquee night, barely letting up to draw breath. Songs like Lost In The City and 11th Street Kids are vastly improved on their staid album takes and the Back To Mystery City material like the title track and Mental Beat really work well in this context too. The only real drawback though is their live set here does rely on a climax of three covers in a row, but they are all despatched with the requisite energy and build to a fine old head of steam by the time they reach the final song Train Kept-A-Rollin, first made famous by Johnny Burnette. Out of the three albums this one is definitely the keeper, as I believe is common parlance these days.
Incidentally these reissues do not come with either bonus tracks or a sleeve note, instead with the first two albums having the band’s lyrics on the inner sleeve (ok if you want to do karaoke versions, but words were truly not the band’s strong point so maybe not the greatest idea ever to have them printed out for perusal) and for the live LP just some photos. It is a shame no-one could dig out some contemporary single sides to append and/or a band history for each LP, but I suppose the music that made the cut is what counts in the final analysis.
Soon after this live performance the band signed a major label deal with CBS and their album for the imprint Two Steps From The Move hit the UK Top 30. But any momentum they were gaining was dashed when tragedy struck, with drummer Razzle being killed in a car crash. They stumbled on with Terry Chimes from the Clash on drums, but the game was up and Hanoi soon split up in 1985 without any further recordings being cut.
Hanoi Rocks were a refreshing and colourful outfit on the increasingly drab 80s Punk/Rock live scene – providing thrills and sleazy glamour as an antidote to grim realities in the outside world. Other bands would confront the harsh truth, whilst Hanoi partied and got further and further drawn into the usual Rock ‘n’ Roll bad habits, which in the end meant their downfall. For anyone new to the band and wishing to find out more, they would be best to start with the live album and work their way along from there, as it shows Hanoi Rocks in the environment they truly thrived in. The other two albums are slightly underwhelming and best approached with a little experience beforehand.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here