The Babys (Chrysalis CHR 1129); Blondie (Private Stock PS 2023)

PUNK HARLOW WITH THE BABYS

THE DEBUT albums by the Babys, a barely post-adolescent group from the wrong side of London, and Blondie, the first female-led New York punk band to have signed with a major label, are both memorable, possibly for the wrong reasons. They each owe a thank-you to the respective producers involved, without whom, derivation might have outweighed undeniable natural appeal.

Bob Ezrin was the producer of Alice Cooper and Kiss hired when they wanted to get serious. Ezrin opts for mammoth, filled-up cavities in his artist’s material — echoes reverberate, guitars cut in with pungent, overdubbed fills, and above all, the lead singer’s voice clearly cuts through as distinct as a fireball. John Waite, the Babys’ front-man, possesses vocal clarity and dynamism, even if his hue-and-cry all too often reminds one of Plant, Rodgers, et al.

The Babys write nothing startlingly original, but instead continue the respectable custom of “borrowing” that marks every rock band who grew up under the ’60s influence. Zeppelin didn’t think anything of line-by-line lifting the Small Faces’ 1966 ‘You Need Lovin” for their 1970 ‘Whole Lotta Love’. The Babys find it natural, in ‘Looking for Love’, to fling the guitar chords that Page once brandished in a barely remembered lead. When the Babys rock (which they do on half the album; the rest being too-similar ballads and a great cover of ‘I Love How You Love Me’), they’re advancing the most holy of British pop traditions. Nothing is too dragged out, no risks are taken with a projected audience of young teens. Walt Stocker’s leads are not poll winners, but they are distinct and unembarrassed. They’ll sound just fine over the screams of former Rollers’ followers in England, and are valid enough to go on the circuit over here. Not since the Faces’ little Stevie Marriott got the teenies to fling seats across festival arenas has Britain produced such a genuinely good looking ensemble. Whether they’re good or bad will probably be irrelevant within a year.

The tough-girl image cultivated by Deborah Harry, a/k/a Blondie, has also found its ideal exponent in producer Richard Gottehrer. Gottehrer, who may be remembered as producer of the McCoys and writer of that epitome of nasality, ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’, treats Blondie as the 1970’s embodiment of all his 1960’s rock dreams. The “keyboard artist” Jimmy Dmitri (honest, that’s what it says in the bio.) thumps out ice-skating rink organ riffs that are soul-mates of Sam the Sham or the Mysterians. Gottehrer is especially fond of sound effects and question-answer choruses. He packs the tunes with finger snaps and Debbie, singing falsetto, answers Debbie, sneering a low-down street alto.

Blondie’s album walks a tightrope between adulation of the ratpack (Shangri-Las, Ronnettes, etc.) and imitation of them. There’s no doubt that Debbie looks, writes and sings the part in character, whether she tells her friends to watch out for a rival’s ‘Little Girl Lies’ or, spotting an outsider, screams ‘Rip Her to Shreds’. But the early “girl groups” sang up to a fine line and no further. ‘He’s a Rebel’ was no doctoral social commentary, but it sure sounded great on the airwaves. I wonder if lines like “you had to admit you wanted the love of a sex offender” or “I could give you some head… and shoulders to lie on” won’t wear thin in repetition. Depending on one’s attitudes toward imitation being flattery, Blondie is either several smiles-a-minute, or nostalgia-in-excess, which no amount of hip swivels can cure.

© Toby GoldsteinCrawdaddy!, March 1977

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