Dead Boys were dangerous. Not as dangerous as zombies (or the Zombies), but dangerous nonetheless. Now, honestly, it sounds just a little more than Bob Seger did back then. They may have seemed extreme back then, in the innocent later 1970’s, but the extremes have moved further apart, leaving Dead Boys an interesting relic that, at times, seems like a cover band of Iggy and the Stooges. That’s not all bad, but it doesn’t translate perfectly to today.
I never knew Dead Boys back then. They were active around my brief first exposure to punk music (the controversy over the Sex Pistols), but they didn’t register in my naive hideaway in suburban America – the Texas version if I remember correctly. I first heard about Dead Boys in a song by X, “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts”, where John Doe and Exene sing about missing various bands including the Big Boys and not, as I heard it, the Dead Boys. I heard wrong, but it worked. X opened up some kind of barrier between realities to put the Dead Boys into my consciousness maybe 15 years ago. Then, a friend loaned me a giant historical collection of CDs that documented important well and lesser known punk hits include, what’s this, “Sonic Reducer” by the Dead Boys. That stuck even more clearly until hearing a recent podcast about a film “CBGB” where, among others Rupert Grint plays Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome. Yup, Ron Weasley as a punk rocker. According to an interview with Cheetah Chrome himself, he nails it.
So, with the cumulative effect of all this, coupled with my interest in rock, I found myself with a brand new electronic copy of Dead Boys 1977 debut album, Young Loud and Snotty.
Opener “Sonic Reducer” is a classic punk anthem about … well … I don’t know, but is it punk to have the whooshing phaser sound? I thought, once upon a time, that punk had to be stripped down attitude and do away with fluffy things like guitar solos and effects. It’s a narrow minded view, I know, because this song is absolutely punk, rough aggressive punk. At least, it’s rough for it’s era. Now, it’s just a standard pre-bar-fight-rumble kind of song. Such innocence … compared to hardcore political punk that would follow not long afterwards.
“What Love Is” reminds me of British contemporaries The Stranglers with a decidedly romantic topic featuring lyrics such as “I wanna write on your face with my pretty knife”. It’s not sappy in any conventional way, but, with the late Stiv Bators hoarse voice, the main discernable lyric is the tamer chorus, “I want you to know what love is”. Forgive me if I assumed the best. I’m just that kind of guy … usually.
“Ain’t Nothing to Do” has the energy of a punk song just about to run off the rails. The pace seems to be accelerating around a tight mountain curve, with soft brakes and bald tires. As verse spins out into chorus, I swear I hear the wheel bolts loosening ever so gradually, just as traction might be needed. Bators sounds very much like Iggy Pop imitating a street thug. In short, it’s my favorite song here. Combine this with “Search and Destroy” by Iggy, “New Rose” by the Damned, and the Replacements’ “We’re Coming Out” and you’ve got a nice 12 minutes of high energy punk attitude, just about enough for me.
If you get beyond these tracks, it becomes just one track of bar rock after another, albeit with a little more danger. Not much, just a little. Tom Petty could do “I Need Lunch” without stretching. “All This and More” would be better with X doing an exaggerated version like they did with “Breathless”
For purely musical reasons, I’m disappointed in the album, but for historical reasons, I feel pretty cool, grabbing a top release of a second tier band in a then-exploding genre. It’ll turn right in the end, I’m sure!