Stray Cats Runaway Boys

Stray CatsStray Cats Runaway Boys

Runaway Boys Anniversary Box Set

LP / CD

BMG

Out 27th September 2019

Louder Than War Bomb Rating 4.5

 

Stray Cats continue their 40th-anniversary celebrations with this deluxe box set release of their first three albums, complete with rarities and extras

As previously reported here, and following hot on the heels of their latest album 40, Stray Cats have really decided to celebrate their 40th anniversay in style with this box set comprising of their first three classic albums, a disc of rarities, and a host of extras for those fans willing to shell out.

Runaway Boys, their very first single, the opening track on their debut album is the perfect title for the set given that we’re talking about that trio of rockers who escaped their Long Island life to be embraced by the revival of the rockabilly scene in the UK, their spiritual home and referenced on their debut album so succinctly and perfectly on Rumble In Brighton. Theirs was a rockabilly sound of the past, pure through to the core. Right from the off, Runaway Boys came in with that typical shuffle beat, bopping double bass and of course Brian Setzer’s wonderful guitar work that seemed to fly effortlessly from the frets as he skipped joyously up and down the neck. Harking back to the ’50s, not only in sound but of course in style, Stray Cats immersed themselves in tales of desires for Cadillacs and Mustangs, nights out with girls, and teenage high school rebellion. They musically encompassed that world that two years later was set in celluloid in Coppola’s The Outsiders. This was, of course, hammered home by the inclusion of songs like Jeanie Jeanie Jeanie, My One Desire, and Wild Saxophone alongside their original compositions. On Crawl Up and Die Setzer even put his best Elvis croon on. In fact, the only song that dates the record is the surging Storm the Embassy, the one song to cast its gaze outside that idealised world in which they lived.

The success of their first album clearly lit a fire in both the band and their label and only nine months later they released Gonna Ball. If their debut had set them firmly in the rockabilly crowd, Gonna Ball saw them flexing their muscles to push back against such boundaries. While it may have infuriated the rockabilly die-hards (and perhaps still does), time has certainly been kind and their steps (albeit tentatively) away from that strict rockabilly sound makes for a stronger album. Baby Blues Eyes, originally by Johnny Burnette, opened the album and bridged perfectly from their debut, but it only took three minutes of the record before they were coming out with a harder sound on the punkabilly Little Miss Prissy. It was something that they pushed even further, almost crossing into psychobilly one of the album highlights Wicked Whisky. However, the writing did not all move to a harder edge, as evident on the yearning Lonely Summer Nights. That penultimate song us great lure before the trap of closer Crazy Mixed-Up Kid with its firey punk style. The album should be considered a stone-cold Cats classic!

With momentum finally building stateside after the release of Built For Speed, the band headed into the studio with 12 original Setzer tracks ready to go and came out the other end with Rant And Rave… Soundwise, the band didn’t seem put off by the reaction to the rougher edges of Gonna Ball and continued with that less polished sound, albeit with songs that fit back more in their original rockabilly mould. While some of their subject matter had turned inwards to their own lives on the road (18 Miles to Memphis), they still maintained their traditional ideas of highschool rebellion, cars, and girls, clear as day on Sexy & 17 and Rebels Rule. With songs like Dig Dirty Doggie, including some of Setzer’s finest guitar work, the band were well and truly back in their territory of old. As with the two previous albums, they still found time to drop in something different, in this case the lush doo-wop ballad I Won’t Stand In Your Way. With the Cats firing on all cylinders, three fantastic albums under their belts, they called it quits. Despite reforming on and off over the years for albums and tours, they rarely captured the momentum of those early years, and Setzer himself admitted that the split was a mistake.

Naturally, as with most anniversary box sets these days, the three classic Cats albums have been pressed on heavyweight vinyl and, of course, there’s also the added disc of rarities. The rarities disc pulls together b-sides such as Sweet Love On My Mind and Drink That Bottle Down alongside songs like What’s Goin’ Down, the side A closer from the Japanese edition of Gonna Ball. For completists and aficionados, these songs will be known already, but for many, the rarities disc feels much like a new record, almost as vital and rocking as the three original records. As well as this, the full box set contains a great set of classic interviews and rarely-seen photos, providing a wonderful insight into the band as they rose through the early 80s. Adding in the board game with bespoke pieces and die, and the set truly is a complete work of dedication, a tribute to one the best rock ‘n’ roll bands who burned brightly and produced some amazing rockers that still today, 40 years on, get your feet tapping and your hips jiving.

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All words by Nathan Whittle. Find his Louder Than War archive here.

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