Just like most Beatlemaniacs in the summer of 1980, news that John Lennon was about to re-enter the recording studio after an unprecedented five-year AWOL filled me with eager, excited anticipation. I mean, there could be no doubt the Chief Beatle would have identified with, not to mention greatly appreciated, the leather-jacketed back-to-raw-basics approach the late 1970s punk-rockers had brought to an otherwise milquetoast music scene during his hiatus.
So, naturally, these new Lennon recordings would undoubtedly reflect said fire and fury, righting all that was wrong upon my AM and maybe even FM radio dial. Right?
Imagine, then, my utter disappointment when the resultant Double Fantasy – at least John’s tracks – appeared coated with layer upon layer of innocuous goop that sounded far, far more Billy Joel than Joey Ramone.
I can understand that Lennon was being delicately eased back into the early 1980s marketplace with the least offensive, most mainstream audio sheen possible. But this was a man who had until then never once feared to recklessly puncture the sonic envelope, public opinion, not to mention the Billboard Hot 100, be damned. So why was he now making music with a buncha high-payed, perfectly pitched NYC studio cats as opposed to with, duh, a real band?
Listen, forget his fellow ex-Beatles – there already existed in 1980 a fab foursome that were more than up to the task of injecting what turned out to be Lennon’s final recordings with all the fun and frantic force they so richly deserved. Why, these guys were even fellow Brits, one of whom had concocted a little retro-masterpiece called “I Hear You Knocking,” which Lennon once remembered to be his favorite record of 1970!
Not only that, said combo had, on the very heels of Double Fantasy, released a galloping gem of a record called Seconds of Pleasure that could stand the vinyl test against “Power to the People” and possibly even “Please Please Me” (to say nothing of “Cleanup Time”) with one ’59 Telecaster tied behind its back.
Proof extremely positive of this claim can now immediately be found upon Eagle Rock Entertainment’s joyous new Rockpile Live at Montreux 1980 CD, which in 16 tracks and a mere lightning 49 minutes captures the quartet at its absolute, astonishing pop-a-billy peak.
Due to myriad contractual (and other) snafus at the time, Rockpile all too seldomly found themselves together onstage performing the dozens of songs they’d helped write, perform and/or produce for slews of Mickey Jupp, Carlene Carter, Elvis Costello and of course Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe records. In fact, only one Seconds of Pleasure track – the blackboard jangle classic “Teacher Teacher” – made its way onto Live at Montreux. Yet with numbers the caliber of Graham Parker‘s “Crawling From the Wreckage,” the aforementioned Costello’s “Girls Talk” and a “Let It Rock” with its note-perfect “Rock Around the Clock” break, there’s more than enough pleasures to go around.
For example: a thoroughly pub rock-soaked “Sweet Little Lisa,” a “Queen of Hearts” precisely the way it’s meant to be heard (sorry, Juice Newton), an undeniably adulterous “I Knew the Bride,” not to mention possibly definitive versions of “So It Goes” and “Switchboard Susan.” Why, even “I Hear You Knocking” makes an appearance! In other words, here is a band captured at its completely fully-stoked prime, ripping across their onstage repertoire in a manner which, tempered and duly tamed, formed the basis upon which most every subsequent American “new wave” hit was built. From Greg Kihn on down to all the Tommy Tutone and Rick Springfield types you’d ever care to recall.
But then, what of our heroes themselves?
Rockpile most unfortunately splintered soon after their Montreux grandstand, Edmunds moving on to produce the reformed Everly Brothers, for example, and sustaining his solo career all the way through 1990’s King of Love, while his erstwhile partner Lowe eased into life as the undoubtable Cary Grant of rock ‘n’ roll (buoyed by abundant “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding”/Bodyguard royalties, for starters).
Tragically, I must report no other band has appeared since to fill the void Rockpile left in our world. But at least we finally have, with Live at Montreux, both aural evidence of what all the buzz was about and another 16 reasons to mourn what could have only been if Edmunds, Lowe, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams had continued to call it rock for us all.
But there remains plenty of Double Fantasy outtakes still begging for them to overdub upon, of course …
— Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.