Suzi Quatro plays London’s iconic Royal Albert Hall on April 20th. The show will encompass the Detroit rocker’s 50-year career, complete with special guests and a nine-piece band.
Coinciding with this landmark gig is the release of her new box set, which will come out five days before.
The Rock Box contains 8 discs, including Quatro’s first six studio albums, released between 1973 and 1979, complete with bonus material. There is also a DVD containing Top of the Pops performances, music videos, and a concert recorded in Japan in 1975.
Also included in the package is Quatro’s 1977 live album, also recorded in Japan, Live and Kickin’.
Signed copies of The Rock Box are available to pre-order via Amazon.
Tickets for Quatro’s Royal Albert Hall show can be purchased via the venue’s website.
James Nuttall spoke to Quatro about her memories of each studio album ahead of the box set’s release.
SUZI QUATRO, 1973
Quatro’s eponymous debut album was recorded following the initial success of her first worldwide hit singles, Can the Can and 48 Crash.
Mike Chapman, the man behind Quatro’s hit singles, was in the production seat, and most of the tracks were stylistically similar to Can the Can. “That was recorded once Can the Can had gone in the charts. We went in pretty quickly.”, Quatro begins.
This was Quatro’s first time in the studio commanding a team of musicians that she hand-picked: Dave Neal on drums, Alistair McKenzie on keyboards, and Quatro’s future husband Len Tuckey on guitar. Tuckey would also become her long-time songwriting partner. How did the challenge of running her own ship in the studio sit with her? “That was brilliant, I felt really comfortable with that. They were my boys; we’d done a tour together already and you can hear that on the album. Four musicians, really suited, it just came together”.
Suzi Quatro (released as Can the Can in Australia) was the beginning of a long tradition of covering songs by other artists. Alongside Shakin’ All Over and All Shook Up – a cover so strong that the King himself invited Suzi to Graceland after hearing it – was I Wanna Be Your Man. As if being a leather-clad female bass player leading a band of men wasn’t unconventional enough, Quatro also stuck to the original lyrics of this track. “We all liked that song, and it was my decision not to change the gender. I said to Mike: ‘I will do that as a cover but I’m not changing the gender’”.
Suzi’s favourite tracks: “Skin Tight Skin and Rockin’ Moonbeam. Skin Tight Skin was inspired; Lenny and I wrote that on a bottle of Ruffino – cuz that’s all we could afford – it was a strange one. Rockin’ Moonbeam, I just love the feel of that song. I often wanted to take it onto the stage, but maybe it’s better as an album track. It’s real old fashioned and I think we really showed ourselves on that particular track. The real test of a band is when you gel on boogie.”
The ‘difficult second album syndrome’ hit the Suzi Quatro band as hard as any group after a successful debut.
After co-writing a string of tracks on the first album, the Quatro/Tuckey songwriting partnership penned the most ambitious song of their musical tenure, Angel Flight. The sprawling 10-minute epic, which depicts the changing of the seasons, was intended to be included on the Quatro album.
However, Mickie Most insisted it was removed after playing the track to a boardroom of suits. “Mickie had the German record company over in the office and he played them the upcoming album. That was one of the tracks, and he said their faces fell to the ground. In other words: ‘that’s not Suzi Quatro.’
“So, Mickie got a little bit nervous to put it on that album. He thought it was a little bit premature, then it got left out. Lenny is adamant that, had it been released on that second album, it would have changed the entire world’s perception of what I was capable of. He still gets mad about it now. It’s a shame, but it’s an interesting story.”
With a release date looming and no extra material to record, Quatro became a cover-heavy sophomore album as the band needed more tracks complete the LP in a hurry. “We were scrambling around then, and it was like ‘oh my god, what do we do now?’. We were short of time, and we hadn’t written any more than we needed because Angel Flight was such a long track.”
Covers on Quatro consist of Trouble, Hit the Road Jack, Move It, Keep a Knockin’ and A Shot of Rhythm and Blues.
Suzi says that the removal of Angel Flight caused friction between her and her mentor, Mickie Most. “We had an argument after that album. I had to pull out my contract to Mickie and he went furious. I had to say: ‘Look, it says 80% of the songs should be my own and you didn’t stick to this’. We had an argument, but at least he heard me.
“You can see both sides of the argument; Mickie was trying to protect my image and my sound and make sure I continued to have success. At the same time, we were just flying away creation-wise.”
Quatro features a slower, sultrier version of one of Suzi’s biggest singles, The Wild One. “The single version came first. Then, Mickie said he wasn’t sure about it, so we made the second version, which I love. Then when it came time to put the record out, Lenny and I convinced Mickie that the single version for that song was the right version. It’s still the opening to my show: All my life I wanted to be somebody and here I am.”
Suzi’s favourite tracks: “Klondyke Kate. It’s just got a vibe about it, that song. And Cat Size, I love it because it means something to me. I did it live for many years, and I wrote my story in that song, so obviously it’s close to my heart. Friday is a lot of people’s favourites; again, written on Ruffino.”
Your Mamma Won’t Like Me, 1975
Quatro’s third album was a bold and brave stride away from the boogie-based teen rock of her first two records, into a head-on funk and soul direction.
Your Mamma Won’t Like Me featured backing singers and horn sections to accompany funky tracks like I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew and New Day Woman.
The influence came from Mike Chapman’s new discoveries from his time in the USA. Quatro relished the change of style and says the result was some of the best work the original band ever laid down in the studio. “I was all for it because I’m from Detroit. I love soul and funk, it was right down my street. He had been listening to Rufus in America.
“The best track the first band ever recorded was I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew. It’s in the pocket. Mike let us play it for seven minutes. Finally, we stopped and I said, ‘what are you doing?’ and he said ‘I couldn’t stop you, it’s just too good’.”
Your Mamma Won’t Like Me was not met with rapturous applause from critics or much of Quatro’s fanbase. The title track was the lead single, but it only managed to climb as high as #31 in the UK charts.
However, Quatro insists the lack of chart success didn’t phase her. “I didn’t really think about it, they either go big or they don’t go big. Funnily enough, it’s a lot of people’s favourite album. Maybe Your Mamma Won’t Like Me wasn’t exactly what a lot of people wanted to hear from me, but a lot of people say it’s their favourite album.
“You can’t keep doing the ‘dum-de-dum-de-dum’, like the first two albums; you can’t keep doing that forever. You’ve gotta stretch out, then the ‘dum-de-dum-de-dum’ is a nice change when you play it on stage.”
Several of the songs on Your Mamma Won’t Like Me also feature Suzi’s sister Patti on backing vocals. “She happened to be in town, and she came to the studio and Mike said ‘get out there and sing’. Patti’s a real good BV singer, she always has been. She’s got a very distinctive voice, she’s strong and she gets the notes.”
Suzi’s favourite tracks: “Michael, for sure, it’s one of my favourite songs that I ever wrote. I think it’s absolutely beautiful. That actually came out as a single in Australia.
And You Can Make Me Want You, I love that one too. We did that live on the Alice Cooper tour.”
Quatro’s fourth studio release, Aggro-Phobia, proved to be the band’s most difficult album to record. Initial recording took place in Montreux in 1976, with Mike Chapman at the production helm. However, Chapman walked out on the project after just a few of the tracks had been cut.
While several of the Chapman-produced tracks made the final cut of the album, the majority of Aggro-Phobia ended up being produced by Quatro’s label owner and mentor, Mickie Most. “I’ve said it for years and years, Mickie never knew how to produce me”, Quatro begins.
“He’s a great producer, that’s the funniest part of it, but he could never get my edge onto the record. I think he was too much of a ‘perfect’ producer; he didn’t want anything rough and raw. I think Mickie’s best work is with Donovan.
“He had to do this album contractually because Mike Chapman was on the missing list and we had to have an album out per year.”
With the Montreux sessions being aborted, recording now moved to the RAK mobile studio in France. “Mickie had just purchased that RAK mobile unit. He was using it and he loves France, so he just said: ‘Let’s go to France and record there’. So that’s what we did.
Quatro doesn’t remember the meaning behind the unusual title for the record, but recalls that it was Most’s idea. Perhaps, a commentary on the strained circumstances under which it was recorded.
“We didn’t argue at all, but there just wasn’t that fun element that we had with Mike. With Mickie, it was like a business: Get in there and do your part. I have to stress again, he’s a terrific producer, he just didn’t know what to do with me in the studio.”
The lead single from Aggro-Phobia, Tear Me Apart, became a top-30 hit in the UK. Nonetheless, the single version produced by Most was a far cry from the loose and Rolling Stones-esque track that Chapman had intended it to be. It is this version that Suzi prefers: “I like the original version the best. If you listen to that raw version that Mike did with us, left over from the aborted Montreux sessions, we went for a Stones, loose feel, and it really works. The other one was the hit, but I love that original version. Mike said ‘We’re the Rolling Stones’, and that’s how we went out there and did it.”
Suzi’s favourite tracks: “I’ve got a lot of favourites on that. Half as Much as Me and What’s It Like to Be Loved are really good – we did them both on stage. American Lady was called I Miss America originally. I like that too because it’s very personal to me.”
IF YOU KNEW SUZI, 1978
If You Knew Suzi saw some renewed chart success for Quatro in the UK. If You Can’t Give Me Love became her first top-5 hit in four years. The Race Is On and her duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman, Stumblin’ In, also charted.
After struggling for several years to achieve commercial success in her native US, Quatro’s recurring role on Happy Days had helped to break her into the mainstream, and Stumblin’ In became a top-5 million-seller in America.
If You Knew Suzi also put Quatro back together with Mike Chapman, who slid back into the production seat for her fifth album. The LP was recorded in Cologne and Los Angeles. “We were back together with Mike. I was doing Happy Days, I had just gotten the role”, Quatro remembers. “We called him up and he hadn’t seen anybody for a year at least. He just disappeared, he has a habit of doing that. We got together, we had lunch, and we decided to work together again.”
For her fifth album, the then 28-year-old’s musical style took a left turn away from straight rock and down a more West Coast country-style avenue. Suzi states that much of this musical shift was Chapman’s idea: “He came to the first recording of Happy Days and he said ‘This has got to be different’. He actually said to me, ‘Suzi, you’ve got a great country voice. I’m going to go away to try to write a country-rock ballad’. He went to the opening night of Grease and came in with If You Can’t Give Me Love: I’ve seen you before on that discotheque floor…”
If You Can’t Give Me Love remains one of Quatro’s best-known hits around the world. “It’s one of the most endearing songs in the set, people love that one big time. Usually, when you have a ballad hit, it’s huge everywhere because people just love it. The ballads stick, I don’t know why but they do.
“When I was putting down the vocal, I was taping Happy Days in the daytime and going in the evening to the studio, Mike said to me: ‘Suzi, you’re a great actress, act this song’, and that’s what I did. I did it like a dialogue. One of my better vocals, I have to say.”
One of Quatro’s cover choices for this album was her take on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Breakdown. “I put my stamp on that [song]. Tom even came to New York to see my gig. He sent me 12 red roses the next day. They arrived at my hotel, and it said: ‘Thank you for the plug every night. Love, Tom’.”
Suzi’s favourite track: “Suicide. That’s definitely one of my favourite tracks of all time.”
Suzi… And Other Four Letter Words, 1979
Quatro’s sixth album, Suzi… And Other Four Letter Words, kept her on the hit trail, producing two top-40 singles: She’s in Love With You (No.11) and Mama’s Boy (No. 34).
In her 2007 autobiography, Unzipped, Quatro stated that her sixth album is her favourite. 15 years later, she reaffirms this statement. “It’s my favourite photo, first of all. I love that cover photo with my fists clenched.”
“It’s got a really good collection of self-penned songs on it. Even Mike Chapman said to me when we were recording it: ‘I don’t know what’s happened to your writing, Suzi, but just keep going, you’re really writing good stuff’. I think I came into my own as a writer.”
“On this album, I kind of stopped collaborating with Lenny. Our names still went on the credits together because I would still bounce the songs off him, but without any disrespect, I really was starting to write on my own at that point. I was just going where I wanted to go.”
Quatro was still a regular on Happy Days during the recording of Suzi… And Other Four Letter Words, which required her to be in Los Angeles for much of the time. The West Coast culture of LA influenced her writing in tracks like Space Cadets and Hollywood. “We were living there at the time, and I was doing Happy Days. We had an apartment there and LA is definitely Space Cadet time, so that song came from LA, for sure.”
For the first time in the band’s history, there were also two guitarists. Jamie Crompton was recruited shortly before the recording of Suzi… And Other Four Letter Words, and went with Suzi, Dave, and Len into the studio. “That was a conscious decision. Lenny and I talked about it and thought it would be nice to have two guitar players and it worked out great. Jamie is a very, very fine guitarist; I love him dearly, he’s still a good friend today.”
Full-time backing singers were also introduced into the band’s line-up. They are very prominent on the singles Mama’s Boy and I’ve Never Been in Love. “It was good to have two girls on the road, it took a little bit of the pressure off me.”
Suzi’s favourite tracks: “Hollywood is one of the best, if not the best song Lenny and I ever wrote. Lenny gave me this backwards guitar sequence. He said ‘listen to this’, put it down on the tape, and I worked on that. That was inspired. It’s a strange song, it’s almost like a piss-take.”
“Space Cadets is excellent. Starlight Lady, I love for what it is. Mind Demons, I love it because it’s a little bit rude”, comments Quatro on her self-penned track about masturbation.
Suzi Quatro The Rock Box 1973-1979: The Complete Recordings will be released on April 15th.
Suzi Quatro plays the Royal Albert Hall on April 20th.
She will also play the Waterfront Hall in Belfast on September 23rd. Tickets are available from the theatre’s website.